West Coast bassist/composer Von Essen died prematurely in his sleep of a heart attack at age 43 but left behind some 100 compositions, and many bandmates are dedicated to making sure his music gets heard. This is one of three proposed volumes that will assure Von Essen's sounds are known to a jazz public that probably never heard of him. That will change, for this is a wonderful initial outing, played by five different groups. Pianists Alan Pasqua and Alan Broadbent lead trios on two tracks apiece. Pasqua, with Dave Carpenter on bass and Peter Erskine on drums, uses an urgent ticktock to a light beat under a languid, beauteous piano melody on "Silvana," while "Blues For Carin'" is an easily swung, ultra-melodic number with Pasqua using Chick Corea or Thelonious Monk-like techniques. Broadbent swings "Blues Puzzle" with Putter Smith's bass way up in the mix, while the lament "Nowhere" starts with solo 88s, then Smith and drummer Kendall Kay join on this most pristine ballad. Electric guitarist Nels Cline and pianist David Witham lead a quartet for the urgent, modal to swinging "Peacemaker," as familiar a theme as the public might recognize, and the easy flowing waltz "For Me" sports some lustrous unison lines. Violinist Jeff Gauthier and acoustic guitarist Cline in finger-style mode use a chamber-style approach à la Oregon for "Incomplete Circle" in phrases of seven and four beats, while the slow waltz "Departure" has Gauthier in mournful yet optimistic spirits. Stacy Rowles plays poignant trumpet or flugelhorn with Larry Koonse's tender electric guitar in separate lines on the contemporary ballad "Love Song For Kirsi" and works in tandem on the easy, straight-ahead swinger "Benny" for Benny Golson, using phraseology from Golson's "Whisper Not." Tom Warrington, in Von Essen's spirit, evokes the composer's persona with a deftly plucked bass solo. If this is only a portent of future volumes to come, it's quite an auspicious starting point. One can only look at future issuance of Von Essen's musical brilliance with hope and grand expectation. Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos