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Formed in 1998 by jazz violinist Jeff Gauthier, Cryptogramophone Records looks ahead at new ways to express modern jazz. World music influences give the catalogue a universal appeal, while tradition is never far from reach. There's nothing cryptic about the music. Gauthier and his creative musical partners share a secret love for what makes jazz work: lyrical melody, consonant harmony, rhythmic vitality, superior musicality and heartfelt emotion.

As a collective, the Cryptogramophone family of artists comes from a wide range of jazz backgrounds, which Gauthier sees as a binding force. "These musicians, many of whom have worked together for over 20 years, embrace not only free improvisation, but also appreciate tonal composition, extended musical forms, modal improvisation and chord changes. Many of the artists who've come together on this label bring with them a love for the new as well as the old. They're veterans. Each brings a universal quality that reaches out to a varied audience.

Looking through the catalogue, one can see that a good number of Cryptogramophone artists play string instruments: violin, cello, bass and guitar. There's much more, of course, fleshing out the world of jazz instrumentation; however, Gauthier feels that it makes a difference on the label's outcome. "Many diverse musical influences come into play such as contemporary classical music, rock 'n' roll and world music.

While the catalogue contains a string-jazz emphasis in its choice of ensemble makeup, Cryptogramophone remains a solid family with a definite mission. In that respect, Gauthier points out that, "Unlike many other labels, most of Cryptogramophone's catalogue was produced internally from conception to realization. So, as much as the label represents a community of musicians, there is also a creative focus by virtue of there being one producer, one recording engineer and one graphics team involved in every release.

Cryptogramophone has created a bridge between New York and Los Angeles through its extensive family of musicians. Gauthier reminds us that, "Many of our artists like Bennie Maupin, Myra Melford and Mark Dresser started out on the East Coast and ended up on the West Coast. Others like Jenny Scheinman started on the West Coast and ended up on the East Coast. Since artists such as Nels Cline, Scott Amendola and Ben Goldberg are on the road all the time, they've accepted a role that many jazz performers now take for granted: regional borders no longer have much significance.

Guitarist Nels Cline, with two recent releases making a big splash for the label, appeals to a broad audience. The Nels Cline Singers (which is not a vocal group) consists of guitarist Cline, percussionist Scott Amendola and bassist Devin Hoff. On Draw Breath, they charge through a program of progressive jazz, soulful blues, hard rock passion and soothing soliloquies that characterize the sum of our everyday experience. After all, no one can say his or her day has been completely one-sided from sunup to sundown. As a creative jazz trio with much to say, The Nels Cline Singers focus on freedom with a lyrical message. They play hard, work together cohesively and come up with a program that has appeal across the musical spectrum.

With his tribute to the music of Andrew Hill, New Monastery, Cline expands his trio with other members of the Los Angeles creative music community: Bobby Bradford (cornet), Andrea Parkins (accordion), Ben Goldberg (clarinet) and percussionist Alex Cline (Nels' twin brother). Together, they swing characteristically through a program of Hill's music, catching the comfortable rhythms and adventurous expressions all in one basket. Fitting the label's design to the letter, the album interprets the jazz tradition in new and daring ways. Cline's guitar expresses blues, rock and swing in one fell swoop. In person, he leaves an indelible impression that runs the gamut from one jazz era to the next, able to fit in comfortably with any organization. On the album, he's persuasive and always on target.

Gauthier's violin merges gracefully with many of the label's artists, focusing intelligently on creative music while keeping a strong foundation in tow. His One and the Same, a quintet album featuring the Cline brothers along with pianist David Witham and bassist Joel Hamilton, includes a composition by label-mate Bennie Maupin as well as two by bassist Eric von Essen. Here, Gauthier steers the ensemble with an intuitive feel for what traverses the jazz spectrum. Like a time tunnel continuum that travels through the worlds of classical music, jazz and avant-garde, Gauthier's Goatette settles in comfortably with a big heart and open arms. Each interpretation casts a long shadow.

Originally founded to document the music of bassist Eric von Essen, Cryptogramophone's catalogue boasts three volumes of his compositions as interpreted by those who knew and worked with him in Los Angeles. Once again, the label's focus emerges plainly as the music comes from various directions. Guitarist Cline covers the melody with a soulful boast while Gauthier soars high and low with expressive sighs. Bassist Michael Elizondo recalls the lyrical manner with which von Essen kept audiences spellbound during his stay on the planet. He died in 1997 at the age of 43, leaving an empty spot in the jazz world that others would like to fill in his honor.

Of his plans for 2008, Gauthier reminds us that, "Next year will be Cryptogramophone's 10th anniversary, so we will take a minute to remind people who we are and where we came from. We'll be releasing a special two-CD compilation which will feature many of our artists. Beyond that it's difficult to plan more than a year in advance because of the changing landscape of the music industry.

Preview Cryptogramophone music at the AAJ Download Store.


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