Guitarist Larry Koonse recorded Americana in ’97, then had to wait for the passage of six years and the formation of a receptive record label to see it released. The label is Jazz Compass, an online venture established by Koonse, bassist Tom Warrington, drummer Joe LaBarbera and trumpeter Clay Jenkins to “provide the serious jazz listener with outstanding improvisational music,” and Americana is among its first four releases, one by each of the co-founders.
As with the others we’ve heard so far, the label lives up to its promise as Koonse and his companions offer an impressive mélange of written and improvised jazz, comprised mainly of their own original compositions but accommodating one standard, “You and the Night and the Music.” It’s pleasant and well-played, sometimes venturesome but more often decorous. Koonse displays a lovely sound, splendid technique and charming vocabulary, while bassist Scott Colley is a rhythmic workhorse who makes sure that every measure swings.
The other names were new to me. Apparently, pianist David Roitstein is (or was) a faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts; if so, his students have (or had) a remarkable teacher and role model to emulate, as he clearly knows his way around the keyboard. And one can’t say enough about Kendall Kay’s willingness to hold his drum kit in check and blend with the others rather than take on the role of resident bombardier.
The weakest links, as is true of a great many albums of mostly original music, are the themes themselves, none of which occasioned more than a ripple of interest in this quarter. Colley wrote “Segues,” “Americana” and “Leisureman Blues,” Koonse “Angeles Crest” and “Changes,” Rotstein “Tristeza,” and Colley and Koonse co-wrote “Fax Fiction.” Each is a well-constructed springboard for improvisation but no more than that; in other words, you’re unlikely to be whistling or humming any of them in the shower. On the other hand, they do provide the catalyst for a liberal serving of well- cooked jazz, and that may be recompense enough. And if it weren’t, the quartet’s unflagging artistry would be reason enough to affirm one’s approval.
Contact: Jazz Compass, 3115 Foothill Blvd., Suite M235, La Crescenta, CA 91214. Web site, www.jazzcompass.com; e-mail email@example.com
Personnel: Larry Koonse, guitar; David Roitstein, piano; Scott Colley, bass; Kendall Kay, drums.