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Oliver Von Essen: Shanghai Reflections

John Barron By

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German-born pianist Oliver Von Essen approaches the piano trio format from a contemporary perspective, with affection to past innovations. Inspired by his time spent in China, Shanghai Reflections draws from Von Essen's years of sideman experience on the New York scene, as both a pianist and organist, to create a high-spirited collection of original, straight-ahead jazz with the help of bassist Donald Jackson and drummer Ronnie Williams.

The disc's eight tracks, all composed by Von Essen, are well-constructed vehicles for the pianist's nimble approach, and fit nicely within the sympathetic confines of the trio. The opening gospel vibe of "For a Day, hard driving swing of "People's Square and lyrical flow of "Constellation Arrow stand out as session highlights.

As a pianist, Von Essen is attentive to the needs of each piece. He applies the right amount of patience to let his solos breathe and develop into near-perfect improvised statements. His lines swing overtly and swell with an intensity that stays focused.

Jackson and Williams are both schooled veterans who add the perfect touch to Von Essen's hip, laid-back grooves. Jackson maintains a supportive role with the occasional rapid-fire bass riff that lets you know he's ready and willing to devour a solo opportunity. When solo space appears on the bluesy "Shanghai Walk, the bassist displays blistering technique and irresistible creativity. Williams displays enormous diversity as he moves with ease from bombastic fills ("Fu Xing ), to in-the-pocket swing ("Perfect Day ), to propulsive Afro-Cuban polyrhythms ("Xin Yun ).

Shanghai Reflections is a captivating release that draws one in for repeated listening. Von Essen is a commanding pianist and thoughtful composer who is deserving of widespread attention.


Track Listing: For A Day; Fu Xing; People

Personnel: Oliver Von Essen: piano; Donald Jackson: bass; Ronnie Williams: drums.

Title: Shanghai Reflections | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Self Produced

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