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Adam Larson Jazz Ginger

The Adam Larson Trio: With Love from Chicago (11 Feb. 2022) REVIEW

Saxophonist/bandleader/composer/(UMKC) educator Adam Larson has a new album out, a stellar one. Larson has deep KC roots, though he has also been a staple in Chicago and New York. Larson’s new album drops this Feb. 11 and is on the Outside In Music. Larson sums up his current project in this way: “I have a trilogy of trio recordings that begin releasing, starting Feb 11th, 2022, with my trio from Chicago, that features bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Dana Hall. The trilogy project features three separate trios--one from Chicago, KC and NYC, which are all cities that have played an important part in my development as an artist” (from an email).

The album features mainly contemporary straight-ahead tunes and is polished and energetic—and Coltrane-soulful. As part of this trilogy, the next record drops this Fall and features KC talent.

Larson spoke of his own part in keeping KC jazz strong and his own continued connection to the KC scene. Larson hosts a jam session in Westport: “Since the start of the Fall…September…I’ve hosted a jam session at Westport Coffee House…every second Sunday…where…the House Band is really strong:…typically, it is myself, John Kizilarmut (drums), Roger Wilder (keys),…(and) Ben Leifer (bass)…a way to build community…”

The KC connection continues for Larson, including with his next record: “I have lived in different cities…Yes, I lived in New York close to 12 years…but I’ve done a lot to play music…with people from all over the country, not the least of which…(are) people in Kansas City… (on my) record that comes out (this)…fall.” The next, all-KC album should also be a real treat.

“With Love from Chicago” features a strong trio mix, a vibrant sound from top-notch musicians. Larson said, “The gentlemen on the record are some of the best musicians…that I’ve ever played with….(bassist) Clark and I are really really close friends…My second…son is named after him, and Clark is (also) his godfather…The relationship on this record goes deep musically and personally…This is one of the strongest records I’ve ever put out…There’s really good energy and chemistry between everybody….Danna and Clark have been playing together for at least 20 years…They are a formidable backline in the Chicago scene for decades.” It’s a joy to hear Larson’s Chicago group, to see how Larson has branched out. And they truly groove.

This is not a pick-up gig album, but instead an album of folks who know and trust one another. You can hear it in every track. Larson said, “This band is a lot of fun to play with. There’s a lot of trust, which means you can take a lot of risks…With my own playing…I’ve become less risk averse over the years, a little bit more interested in letting some things ‘go wrong’ or ‘get weird’…When I was 18 or 19 or even 23, it was the exact opposite.” You can hear that trust in the music on this album, how the musicians follow and trust one another. They make and hold a net, a wide and strong one. The album is already garnering praise and knocking the rust off the once-dormant pandemic club scene. KC “Neon Jazz” host Joe Dimino said he found the album particularly inspiring and uplifting, especially coming, when it does, mid-pandemic: “I know listening to (this album) ….There’s such a good, powerful energy to it. It almost seems as though it’s kind of a triumphant sound, like, ‘You know what, we’re back.’ We’re getting over this (pandemic) thing that knocked us all down.’”

An excellent example of contemporary straight-ahead trio jazz, Larson thrives in this smaller group. Larson said, “I hope the listener gets a chance to hear me…playing in a different context that, so far, hasn’t been recorded…Playing in a trio is one of the most liberating and terrifying things you can do as a saxophone player…”

The album is mainly originals, including tunes by both Larson and Clark: “This record…showcases not only my compositions, but also Clark’s. Clark actually contributes one more composition than I do on this record…As much as I like to write, I also really enjoy playing other people’s music.”

The album is fresh and eclectic, mixing the old and new, never dull: “I hope people can listen to this record and hear the different influences…(For instance, in) ‘Angolan Babysitter’…the music is heavily influenced by two people who couldn’t have anything less to do with each other on paper… Michael Brecker and Tupac Shakur….The worst thing we can do as musicians is offer up something that people are indifferent about…If it’s, ‘Ho-hum, don’t have no opinion’…something’s wrong…Sometimes just a reaction is what I’m looking for…”

Larson has a busy performance schedule this February, including stops at both universities and jazz clubs, ranging from Westport Coffee House (KC) to Truman State University to a jazz festival in St. Joseph: “I’m looking forward to the push next month…We’re going to do…about 10 events early- and mid-February….We’re going to be pretty busy over the first few weeks in February…It’s nice to be able to play a mixture of clubs and also colleges…My thing in music is heavily steeped in education and performance.”

Larson helps move the tradition forward through his music and performance workshops and stops. Give him a listen. You won’t be disappointed. And, if you can, catch him and one of his many groups live.

Musician quotes in this review were pulled from the audio interview program “Neon Jazz” hosted by Joe Dimino: Used with permission. To learn more about Adam Larson and his upcoming live concerts (and about this album), go to:

—Kevin Rabas

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