This weekend came the news of the passing of Gerry Teekens, the head of the Dutch jazz label Criss Cross Records. I never personally recorded on a Criss Cross session, but what I heard about Gerry was pretty consistent: he liked the music he liked, he ran the label how he ran it, and through it all spent nearly 40 years as an important shepherd to so many wonderful jazz musicians, many of them either being given their first opportunities to record or being documented at a time when bigger labels were not interested. Some records important to my early development came on the label, followed by records by my friends and peers, followed by records by exciting up and comers, with variations thereof.
It was hard to pick ten, so I tried to spread the love as well as I could, while agonizingly leaving off sessions I really enjoy by Cedar Walton, Slide Hampton, Clifford Jordan, Melvin Rhyne, George Colligan, Ralph Peterson, Jr., and others. Also, I debated whether to go by album or track, with the latter winning by a coin toss. Dates in parentheses represent recording dates.
1 ) “Blues in Six” from Moon Alley by Tom Harrell (1985)
This was the first Criss Cross record to seep deeply into my consciousness. Moody, swinging work with the propulsive rhythm section work of Kenny Barron (an important Criss Cross artist himself, see below), Ray Drummond (who did an excellent quintet session of his own), and Ralph Peterson, Jr., (whose 3 albums with his early 2000s quintet are also exceptional) along with Kenny Garrett (who crushes on this whole album – hopefully the #1 slot here fends off those angry that Introducing Kenny Garrett isn’t represented on this list).
2 ) “Time Was” from Green Chimneys by Kenny Barron (1983)
One of my first Kenny Barron records (I got this a couple weeks into my studies with him in college), and a great document of the depth of flow and swing that the by-then well-oiled machine of Kenny, Buster Williams, and Ben Riley could achieve.
3 ) “Song for Isaiah” from True Life Stories by Jimmy Greene (2005)
Hearing Jimmy Greene premiere his Overcomer’s Suite at the Village Vanguard was one of my most sacred moments as a listener in this millennium. While he subsequently released a live recording of the whole suite, I am particularly fond of this version of one of the suite’s movements featuring his core band members of the time, Xavier Davis, Reuben Rogers, and Eric Harland, with Jeremy Pelt rounding the group out on trumpet.
4 ) “Elevation” from Keep the Change by Ralph Bowen (2003)
Ralph Bowen record with Orrin Evans on it or vice versa? Another toss-up, considering the bounty of options, with the tie broken here by the fact that this is one of my favorite tunes of the last 35 years.
5 ) “Blues for Marcus” from Blues for Marcus by Steve Wilson (1993)
Steve Wilson recorded four fabulous dates as a leader for the label, and this one (featuring the hard-swinging title track dedicated to his son) features some of his most important ongoing collaborators in vibraphonist Steve Nelson, pianist Bruce Barth, bassist James Genus, and drummer Lewis Nash, all of whom shine here.
6 ) “A Monk’s Dream” from Isotope by Kirk Lightsey (1983)
The great Detroit pianist Kirk Lightsey’s work (much of it, as in this case, with Eddie Gladden on drums) for Criss Cross in some ways the epitome of the label – hard-swinging, elegant music by an important force in the music whose work was otherwise largely neglected.
7 ) “We Are There Yet” from Terrible Animals by Lage Lund (2018)
Lest one get the impression that Teekens’ tastes remained ossified, it’s important to note that the label put out an increasing amount of more modern material over the years, typified by this gorgeous record featuring original compositions by the guitarist Lund and a fluid yet fiery rhythm section featuring Tyshawn Sorey, Larry Grenadier, and Sullivan Fortner.
8 ) “Belief” from Consenting Adults by MTB (1994)
One of a few co-led groups the label spotlighted, this record was the fifth of the albums on the label to feature pianist Brad Mehldau before he was a household name in the jazz world, and the only one to also feature drummer Leon Parker, whose musical hook-up with Mehldau in this era left an indelible mark on my young ears. Saxophonist Mark Turner, Grenadier, and the wonderful guitarist Peter Bernstein also play hard-grooving solos here.
9 ) “Cryin’ Blues” from Gone But Not Forgotten by Johnathan Blake (2014)
This record, paying tribute to a host of departed folks, spotlights not only the fabulous drummer/leader but also two tenor saxophonists who did some of their important early work for the label years prior: Turner and Chris Potter, whose interplay with one another is delightful throughout.
10 ) “Little Dreams” from The Jaunt by Steve Davis (1995)
For those who haven’t spent time in Hartford, CT (me, I grew up in New Haven, but felt like an honorary Hartford-ite starting when I began studying at the Artists’ Collective as a teenager) this may not mean much, but hearing Steve Davis play the trombone was central to my developing musical DNA, and I remember how excited I was to go to Integrity ‘N’ Music (THE jazz record store in the area) to pick up his first Criss Cross session, featuring this incredibly catchy tune by one of his mentors, Curtis Fuller.