Warm and liquid, the music of jazz guitarist Greg Ruggiero slides into the ear so easily, you don’t notice until it’s already had its way with you. The first signs include a slowing of the breath, a relaxed attentiveness and a heightened awareness of one’s blessings.
With his first CD, Balance (Fresh Sound New Talent), out this year, Ruggiero is establishing himself as a unique voice on the highly competitive New York City scene. On Saturday, Albuquerque fans will get their first chance in months to hear his latest musical developments when the Greg Ruggiero Quartet appears at the Outpost.
Ruggiero was living comfortably in New Mexico before he sold pretty much everything he owned and moved away from family, friends and a significant other in 2004, heading to Brooklyn with no job and no immediate prospects.
“I kind of felt that to get to where I wanted to get to, I had to be here,” Ruggiero says on the phone from his home in Brooklyn.
It wasn’t an easy transition, though, having to work a mind-numbing day job for the first eight months and rooming with college kids.
“It was horrible,” he says. “The first year for me was very enlightening. I was very confident in New Mexico. I felt good about where I was as a player. When I moved here, I felt completely inadequate. It is, in my mind, going to boot camp in jazz. You just get broken down.”
The adversity forced Ruggiero to embark on a personal exploration to “try to figure out what I’m about as a musician,” he says. “The process of really searching on your instrument for a sound.”
With the help of teachers such as pianist Pete Rende, Ruggiero developed a new understanding of “how your instrument is basically just an extension of you,” and he began to get “really personal in music and sound.” He also found a new confidence in his playing and composing, which helped him put together the material for Balance.
On the CD, which features two additional Albuquerque transplants, saxophonist Rob Wilkerson and bassist Matt Brewer, Ruggiero achieves an engaging intimacy—even when you can hear the bones of his rock ’n’ roll background under the velvet skin of a song.
“I wanted anybody to be able to listen to it and appreciate the song rather than whatever technical improvisation was going on,” he says. “Learning how to be a listener again, rather than just being a musician, is something that I’m trying to pursue more and more.”
Ruggiero and his quartet—with Colin Killalea (sax), Chris Tordini (bass) and Tommy Crane (drums)—are bringing tunes from Balance as well as new material to the Outpost. “It’s great to come home and see my family and friends,” he says, with special gratitude to the Outpost for its support.