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Various Artists: The Music of Eric von Essen Volume III

Jeff Gauthier at Cryptogramophone Records has made a mission of getting the music of Eric von Essen out to the world. An L.A.-based bass player and composer, von Essen died relatively young after leaving a modest mark on the LA jazz scene and teaching for a few years in Sweden. Gauthier, a violinist who once played in von Essen’s regular group Quartet Music, has now produced a third recording devoted entirely to the bassist’s music and performed largely by musicians who were von Essen’s friends and colleagues. A soft, downtempo recording, Volume III focuses on the ballad side of von Essen’s compositional body. In all, eight different configurations of musicians handle 10 von Essen tunes, and though they make very different aesthetic decisions with the each, the recording holds together rather well. This seems to have as much to do with the sleepy tempos and soft, acoustic sound as it does with the clear melodic imprint von Essen left on his tunes.

The album’s song order loosely follows von Essen’s musical development as it moves from the early von Essen’s folky, just-meaty-enough-to-stay-this-side-of-new-age acoustic sound, through his mainstream jazz period and then on to tunes written during his time in Sweden. The first two tunes on Volume III, both from that early period, have much in common with the music of groups like Oregon, though with a touch more bite. Tunes like “It’s Just One Big Party” and “Finska Flues” show off von Essen’s swinging mainstream period. Old von Essen cohorts like flugelhornist Stacy Rowles (von Essen studied with her father, Jimmy) and pianist Theo Saunders lead some of the bands covering these tunes. Perhaps out of respect for the departed composer, however, few groups leave much of a stamp on the music. Only the final two tunes really stand out on this drowsy recording: a stirring rendition of “One Eye Laughs, One Eye Weeps,” with new lyrics and vocals from Kate McGarry, and a reworking of von Essen’s beautiful melody “Flicker and Burn,” from a trio led by pianist Alan Pasqua.

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