Various Artists: The Music of Eric von Essen, Volume III (2002)
As Cryptogramophone's three-volume tribute to the late Eric von Essen draws to a close, we find ourselves amazed at the diversity of players, styles, and moods coming together in his honor. Von Essen was not exactly a well-known player, but the large number of musicians assembled here testifies to the depth and impact of his music. (For the curious: Eric von Essen, bassist and composer, recorded four records with Quartet Music, a project with guitarist Nels Cline, violinist Jeff Gauthier, and drummer Alex Cline. He also freelanced in L.A., taught in Sweden, and composed constantly.) The tunes on this third installment, all von Essen compositions, feature careful attention to gently shifting changes and moods. The overall tone remains light and airy (with a couple of exceptions), rarely losing detail or interest.
The ten tunes on Volume III appear in several different configurations, from duet to quintet. The opener, "Blues for Me," stands as a blatant homage to the early years when von Essen worked in a duo setting with Nels Cline. In this case, Ken Filiano takes over the bass and allows Cline freedom to roam birdlike up top. The hard-driving bop of "Valse Agite" offers a bold contrast and features wonderfully emphatic bass playing by Darek Oles. Finally, the last eleven minutes of the record (the trio piece "Flicker and Burn") evolve from the introduction's quiet, understated piano and bass drum playing into dramatic cycles of crescendo and decrescendo.
Von Essen certainly wrote some interesting tunes, and the ten-pack here amply illustrates that fact. As with any collection of musicians this size, it's inevitable that some will be less inspiring than others. Not surprisingly, the players who were closest to the composer appear to have the greatest insight into his music. For example, guitarist Nels Cline (who appears on three tracks) stands head and shoulders above both of the guitarists who follow. But taken as a whole, this compilation marks one of the high points of this year's crop of jazz releases. It's honest, unpretentious, and inspired. (But beware the dynamic range, which can travel from whisper to shout quite dramatically.)
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Track Listing: Blues for Me; Unresolved; Valse Agite; It's Just One Big Party; The Good Doctor; Norton's Last Words; Finska Flues; Another Moon; One Eye Laughs, One Eye Weeps; Flicker and Burn.
Personnel: Nels Cline: guitars; Ken Filiano: bass; Jeff Gauthier: violin; Michael Elizondo: bass; Alex Cline: drums, percussion; Chuck Manning: tenor saxophone; Theo Saunders: piano; Darek Oles: bass; Ralph Penland: drums; David Witham: guitar; Joel Hamilton: bass; Jeff Colella: piano; Putter Smith: bass; Jerry Kalaf: drums; Stacy Rowles: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tom Garvin: piano; Larry Koonse: electric guitar; Tom Warrington: bass; Paul Kreibich: drums; Kate McGarry: voice; Karen Hammack: piano; Steve Cardenas: electric guitar; Scott Colley: bass; Kenny Wollesen: drums, percussion; Alan Pasqua: piano; Dave Carpenter: bass; Peter Erskine: drums.