Various Artists

The Music of Eric von Essen, Vol. 2

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The second of three projected volumes of music by the late bassist/composer Eric von Essen, who passed away at the age of 43, is -- like its predecessor -- a purposely mixed bag. A composer of straight modern jazz tunes to gypsy blues-jazz to pop to pieces that border on theater and classical music, von Essen was nothing if not a lover of diverse musics, and well-versed in their compositional vocabularies. All of his work was equally possessed of movement, however; there was no stasis in his compositional language. Five different ensembles ranging from quintet to trio perform two pieces each, and add more to the mystery of von Essen the virtuoso musician. The first two pieces, "Blues for John" and "K," are post-bop tunes that soar with the aegis of modern electric post-bop jazz. Larry Koonse's electric guitar and Stacy Rowles' trumpet and fl├╝gelhorn are perfect foils for one another. As Koonse takes the edges and makes them sharper, Rowles rounds them into tight pockets of harmony. On "Petit Rayon" and "9/8/29," brothers Nels and Alex Cline, on acoustic guitar and drums respectively, team with Jeff Gauthier and Michael Elizondo on violin and bass to reveal the impressionistic side of von Essen's personality. Both pieces feel like sketches for orchestral pieces; they hold within their melodic lines large harmonic sonances. The primary strings, guitar and violin, are bridged by the counterpoint melody of the bass. Both works -- though their movement is fluid and medium tempoed -- are restrained until each of them cuts loose into a kind of modern gypsy swing with Django Reinhardt on one side and Pat Metheny on the other. The trio with Peter Erskine is the least successful here, but the material is not the problem. This group took exactly the same hushed approach to this type of material on the first volume, and it's a bit wispy to come completely to life on a recording. To take the record out, the Cline brothers electrically team with David Witham and Joel Hamilton, on piano and bass respectively, for a straight-up jazz romp with hot solos all around ("BC/Jezebel") and a ballad ("Marry Me") of such lyrical tenderness that it almost floats through the air without the music attached. It's gorgeous, hypnotic, and based on open tunings, so that a drone plays a large part in the body of its architecture. If it wasn't for the line coming back over and over again, you would swear you heard this tune inside your heart instead of through your stereo speakers. Not as overwhelming as the first volume, this disk -- aside from the two trio pieces -- is solid nonetheless. It also begs the question of just how deep von Essen's abilities ran because, so far, they seem boundless.

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