Thursday, March 6, 2008

Larry Koonse: What's in the Box?

Jazz Compass
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.6.08
Buy CD: What's in the Box?

Guitarist Larry Koonse has played jazz for years, but I only recently found and reviewed an album with him as leader. That release, Dialogues of the Heart, featured Koonse and his father, Dave, playing duets of some familiar old standards. 

I called it "one of the tastiest jazz guitar records I've ever heard." 

Not long afterwards, Larry Koonse and bassist Darek "Oles" Oleszkiewicz recorded another beautiful album, Storybook; it was even better than the first. 

Well, Koonse, his father and Oleszkiewicz have done it again, only this time they're playing the music of guitarist Jimmy Wyble. To spice things up, they've added Gary Foster on clarinet, and Joe La Barbera on drums; Oleszkiewicz and another bassist, Putter Smith, split the tracks. 

The result is magnificent. 

Wyble, born in 1922, has a long musical history, having played every style that exists. He started out with country/western, cruised through Dixieland and New Orleans, and finally arrived in the straight-ahead jazz genre, playing with luminaries such as Red Norvo. Wyble also composed and arranged much of what he played and, for three years, was Larry Koonse's teacher. 

Wyble was so impressed with his student that he was willing to "hear his music expressed in a different format." He turned over his manuscripts to Koonse with only two requests: that Dave Koonse and Oleszkiewicz be involved in the project. 

As Larry Koonse put it, "no constraints on manner, tempo, style or arrangement" were placed on the project. 

To paraphrase: No greater admiration hath one musician for another, than when he grants that kind of freedom. 

This album is the result. 

You'll likely recognize only two tracks: "Stella by Starlight" and "Variations on a Theme," based on the old standard "All Of Me." All the rest are Wyble originals. Many of the latter are dedicated to Wyble's favorite musical artists; one, "Chorale for Lily," was written for his wife. 

They're all wonderful; the units, which range from duos to quintets, really bring them to life. This album is an absolute must.

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