I don't know for certain, but it sure seems that Criss Cross Jazz producer Gerry Teekens has a thing for guitar players. Among the first musicians signed to his label back in the early '80s was the legendary Jimmy Raney and over the years the number of guitarists to record for Teekens has grown to include Bobby Broom, Peter Bernstein, and recent discovery Adam Rogers. We take a look here at four Criss Cross releases of recent vintage that feature plectrists Jesse Van Ruller, Jonathan Kreisberg, and the aforementioned Bernstein and Rogers.
Peter Bernstein +3
One of the country's foremost jazz guitarists, Peter Bernstein takes his cue from the work of the renowned Grant Green, offering up melodic single-note runs that clearly sound more like horn lines than the typical chordal work of most guitarists. His first recording as a leader in some time, Heart's Content (Criss 1233) puts Bernstein in the familiar company of pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Bill Stewart. As is most obvious from the start, Stewart and Bernstein have a special hook up that has come through the years they have spent as members of organist Larry Goldings trio. In fact, one of that group's staples, "Little Green Men," appropriately opens up the disc.
Bernstein's muse is not about knocking you out with hot licks and fast runs, his is a more subtle art that rewards repeated listening. In this sense, Mehldau makes for a perfect partner as he too goes for a more cerebral form of jazz that is less about bebop and more about a contemporary mélange of influences. Aside from Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count," all of the tunes here are by Bernstein and while they possess an uncanny sense of familiarity they also seem to find clever ways to distinguish themselves. Everyone is up to snuff here, and Bernstein takes his time, spinning yarns of great interest.
Jesse Van Ruller
A Dutch guitarist recently discovered by Criss Cross, Jesse Van Ruller's debut for the label found him in fast company where he relied on standards and a more reserved form of expression. Sure, there was promise evident there but it's with Circles (Criss 1235) that this major talent steps forward with an accurate presentation of his complete abilities. In an organ combo with tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, organist Sam Yahel, and drummer Bill Stewart, Van Ruller goes for broke with a funky date chock full of creative originals.
There's definitely a strong sense of swing that's pervasive throughout, but Van Ruller isn't afraid to get down with more soulful numbers such as the title track and "Zoab." Blake's "Black Dahlia" is a sophisticated and syncopated number that builds on a melodic seed developing over repeated permutations. As for Van Ruller the guitarist, his tone is warm and clean and his single note style is not unlike that of Peter Bernstein's but with a darker timbre more akin to Jim Hall. Regardless of how you describe it, Van Ruller's talents are sufficient enough to make him one of the next great jazz guitarists.
Nine Stories Wide
Bill Stewart is yet again a key member of the ensemble for Jonathan Kreisberg's debut set, Nine Stories Wide (Criss 1244). A tenacious move for a guitarist, Kreisberg has opted for a sparse trio format that puts him squarely in the spotlight with Stewart and bassist Larry Grenadier providing the accompaniment. Largely composed of standards, the treatment of these pieces is anything but standard. For instance, the trio puts a new twist on "Summertime" by offering it up in 5/4 time. Skirting in and out of these challenging new concoctions, Stewart thrives. This is the kind of setting that is perfect for the drummer because of the ways in which his comping is layered with varying degrees of complexity.
Kreisberg is squarely out of the Jim Hall tradition, his solos being a mix of horn-like lines and juicy chordal displays. One of Wayne Shorter's trickier lines, "Juju" finds Kreisberg handling both the lead and accompanying harmonies with seamless proficiency. It's just one example of how complete a guitarist he really is and how rewarding it all sounds on this most auspicious maiden voyage.
Finally, we come to Adam Rogers' sophomore effort for Criss Cross and chance to hear yet another very promising talent. Packed with over an hour's worth of music, all of them originals, Allegory (Criss 1242) is an advanced quintet affair that explores varied and variegated moods. Sharing the date with Rogers are saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist Ed Simon, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Clarence Penn.
While Rogers can play sophisticated bebop along the lines of "Confluence," he also is adept at more abstract structures such as the darkly brooding "Phyrigia." In fact, this piece has shades of the ECM sound that Paul Motian was exploring back in the '80s with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. The banter between Potter and Rogers, such as on "Genghis," is also akin to the Motian analogy with mood ultimately being more important than pyrotechnic displays. This categorizes much of the disc as Rogers will not astound with monster chops, but instead is all the more impressive in his efforts to make this quintet breath as if it were one entity. It's challenging stuff that rewards a careful listen or two.
Visit Criss Cross Jazz on the web at www.crisscrossjazz.com .