Thursday, February 1, 2007

Larry Koonse and Darek Oleszkiewicz: Storybook

Jazz Compass
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.1.07
Buy CD: Storybook

This column's regular readers know I'm a huge fan of guitarist Larry Koonse. 

Storybook, the newest release by this gifted artist — in collaboration with bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz and percussionist Munyungo Jackson — reinforces my conviction that Koonse is, very simply, the best. 

He wrote six of this album's 10 tracks; the remaining four are by Oleszkiewicz, one of the most lyrical bassists I've ever heard. 

Jackson is a perfect choice on percussion; he quietly supports and never intrudes. 

Storybook presents a beautiful potpourri of low-key jazz stylings. It begins with a short, moving "Vignette," done in a classical Spanish style, then moves into "For Chopin," with the guitar taking the place of the harpsichord. "Between Nowhere and Goodbye" is an extension of the Chopin-like theme, with the bass and guitar exchanging passages. 

The ballad-like "Candle," with its 5/4 feel, features Oleszkiewicz; his slow-tempo solo work is masterful. 

Because of the relatively long length of that instrument's strings, it's difficult to place the finger at the exact position that'll result in the actual note desired. 

As a result, most bassists don't try to hit that position initially; they'll purposely contact the string in a lower (flat) location, then slide the finger up to reach the perfect note. Indeed, that technique — known as "bending" — is standard in jazz. 

Well, when Oleszkiewicz wants to hit a note perfectly, he hits it ... no bending, just square on. This beautifully augments his solos and permits him to play a lyrical melodic line. 

Each track echoes another melodic style: "Island Song" and "Beautiful Eyes" take us to the islands; "Seventh Heaven" and "Harlequin" move us to Spain; "Senegal Trance Dance" is an African sojourn; and we return home with the pensive "Valentine." 

This is a beautiful, wonderfully produced album. The music won't make you want to dance, but you'll never get tired of listening to it. The interplay between bass and guitar is intricate, precise, lyrical and almost hypnotic. 

Storybook is a perfect demonstration of a jazz form that doesn't blow you away, but there's no denying that it's jazz.

No comments: