With Love, From New York
Release date: April 7, 2023
Label: Outside In Music
With Love, From New York marks saxophonist Adam Larson’s eighth release as a leader and more notably the last installment in his series of trio albums recorded in 2021 and 2022. Each features rhythm section mates who hail from cities important to his musical development: Chicago, his current home of Kansas City, and his former home of New York City. It serves as a punctuation mark on his flurry of recent activity, with first-call New York musicians Obed Calvaire and Matt Clohesy assisting with effortless elan on drums and bass.
“We played a few gigs together as a unit while I was in New York, and the way that their particular playing styles complimented one another was something that stuck with me,” Larson explains about his bandmates on the album. “Obed’s sound is very flexible and made it easy to tackle the many different ways that the record unwinds, compositionally. Through dozens of gigs with Matt with my projects at 55 Bar, he became my number one call for electric bass. I knew I wanted the best of both worlds on this final installment, and his electric playing on these tunes really does the vibe justice.”
Distinctly, Larson’s With Love, From Chicago calls upon his early musical markings. Though he was raised two hours outside of Chicago, Larson unveiled his love for the Windy City only after leaving it for New York. The lively melodies and bright-tempoed vibrance that make up Larson’s Chicago installment are, therefore, an exploration of his early development as an artist. Returning with a reflection on his New York chapter, Larson continues with a similarly-charged yet stylistically distinct output on With Love, From New York.
Playing in an improvisational setting void of chords can be a double-edged sword for musicians. Without the additional harmonic context, a soloist may have more freedom to explore a wider range of melodic options; it can also, inevitably, create more textural accountability with certain musical choices; content which might otherwise be contributed by guitar, keys, or vibraphone.
Larson’s wide compositional frame of reference is on display in the opener, “Aerial Landmasses”, which evokes prog rock titans Animals As Leaders. Clohesy’s electric bass stylings are a seminal ingredient here, and Larson’s sinewy solo gives way to a metal-tinged tour from Calvaire which might surprise some listeners who may be more accustomed to his work in the drum chair with the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra.
An engaging motivic dialogue between saxophone and bass introduces “64 Squares (Searching For Fish)” before Larson sinks into a theme that is nearly through-composed (meaning melodies are continuously new material and non-repeating) other than a brief closing reference to the intro. The musical form recalls a compositional device that listeners familiar with Dave Brubeck’s standard “In Your Own Sweet Way” might recognize. Clohesy’s solo is a testament to his crystal clear sound and impeccable intonation on acoustic bass. Calvaire’s accompaniment during the tenor solo displays his very personal way of playing across time – one of his hallmark attributes.
“Soar” is a linear, sequential, and logical melody over a breakbeat that almost recalls Aphex Twin or Squarepusher. Larson contributes what may be his strongest solo on the album here – a masterclass in range, timefeel and architecture – and an astonishing display of technical virtuosity to boot.
The halfway point of the record is a brief and refreshing musical non-sequitur, a shuffle called “Perspective” that shows that Larson hasn’t turned his back on soulful sensibilities. It provides a lighthearted perspective, cleansing the listener’s palate in such a way that it is effectively gratifying. “I took a chance on recording songs like ‘Aerial Landmasses’, ‘Soar’, and ‘Perspective’ without chords,” Larson concedes, “but that’s a testament to how much space and sound this trio can occupy.”
“Moment Of Clarity” is a medium-up swinger, with some deft ensemble hits from Clohesy and Calvaire in the melody. Their simpatico shines here, with both parties creating rhythmic counterpoint while retaining a propulsive sense of swing that may recall Robert Hurst and Jeff “Tain” Watts. Calvaire brings us to the finish line with a solo over a clever vamp.
An air of introspection colors the penultimate track on With Love, From New York City, the aptly titled “Deception”. The first act of deception occurs with an unexpected resolution to Eb major in the 8th measure of the tune, standing in stark contrast to what had heretofore been mostly stepwise bass motion. Larson breaks up the symmetry of the melody with an extra measure, as well, making for an unconventional 9-bar phrase. The more pensive aesthetic of the composition serves as a fitting showcase for Larson’s unique tenor sound, which may be in part to his unorthodox double-lipped embouchure; while most saxophonists opt to cover their lower teeth with the lip and rest the top teeth on top of the mouthpiece, Larson opts to cover both upper and lower.
Much like on his previous trio release, With Love, From Chicago, Larson closes the album with fireworks on “Cellular Snacks”, another rocker with a brighter harmonic sensibility brought forth by a torrent of major and suspended chords. Clohesy’s pocket is deep, and inventive and relentless solos from saxophone and drums bring the date to a fitting end.
With this trio of trio albums – each serving unique flavors brought forth by disparate personnel and repertoire tailored to the ensemble – Adam Larson has made a significant contribution to the chordless format. With Love, From New York is a fitting denouement to the saga, capturing three of the jazz world’s finest at the top of their individual and collective game.
Derived from liner notes by Michael Shults
With Love, From KC
Release date: September 2, 2022
Label: Outside in Music
With Love, From Kansas City is Adam Larson’s spirited follow-up to With Love, From Chicago – the saxophonist’s critically-acclaimed February 2022 release. Like its predecessor, With Love, From Kansas City finds the saxophonist alongside a chordless trio, surrendering the support of harmonic accompaniment for the freedom and melodic interplay associated with the trio configuration. On his seventh album, Kansas City takes center stage, as Larson explores his relationship with his current home, with the musical support of his fellow Kansas City cohorts, bassist Ben Leifer and drummer John Kizilarmut.
This is the second in a planned trilogy of trio recordings due out within 18 months, with each release highlighting a different city that has had a significant impact on Larson as a musician and artist. In 2019, Larson relocated to Kansas City after an 11-year tour of duty in New York City. Since his arrival, the bandleader has established himself as a leading creative force locally while maintaining a dizzying national performing, teaching and recording schedule. The first album of the trilogy, With Love, From Chicago was released in February 2022 and featured bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Dana Hall alongside the prodigious Larson. Anthony Dean-Harris of Downbeat Magazine called With Love, From Chicago “…an extremely satisfying saxophone-bass-drums trio…one of those albums that should stay in one’s rotation” and gave it a rare 4.5 star-rating. “With Love, From Kansas City” reveals yet another side of Larson’s stunning artistry.
In the album’s liner notes, Michael Shults remarks: “three of the city’s most important musicians and four of its most prolific composers are documented here at their zenith. The traits that define Kansas City – friendliness, hope, optimism, and most importantly love – are on ample display on With Love, From Kansas City.” The prolific composers Shults refers to include Larson as well as three Kansas City-hailing jazz greats whose compositions are featured on this release – Charlie Parker, Bobby Watson, and Peter Schlamb. Featuring original compositions by Larson as well as classics from some of the Kansas City-Born architects of the jazz idiom, this adventurous trio strikes a perfect balance between honoring tradition and innovation.
With Love, From Kansas City begins with three stellar examples of Larson’s writing. The bright-tempoed “New Thread” features Larson on alto saxophone instead of his customary tenor. The piece demonstrates Larson’s jaw-dropping improvisational prowess and the tight-knit interplay of Leifer and Kizilarmut. “Life Cycle” was inspired by Larson’s recent 30th birthday. The bright and tuneful melody statement gives way to an athletic solo statement by Larson that showcases his hallmark flexibility in the altissimo. “Simple Beauty” is truly an ensemble piece that features Larson on the soprano saxophone, with Leifer and Kizilarmut engagingly playing across time over the ballad’s unusual form. This piece showcases a more subtle, nuanced side to Kizilarmut’s playing, in contrast to some more muscular moments on Larson’s other original compositions. “The Jewel”, another Larson original, is a melodic triple meter tune that showcases a tremendous solo from Leifer.
Larson does his part to pay homage to the great Kansas City jazz legends who came before him with evocative takes of several classics. The celebrated saxophonist demonstrates his deep study of Charlie Parker’s musical vernacular on Parker’s “Chi-Chi”. The trio offers an energetic rendition of Kansas City-based vibraphonist and pianist Peter Schlamb’s “REL”. And finally, as Shults remarks in the album’s liner notes, “Perhaps no Kansas City-raised musician has had a greater influence on the recent renaissance of the city’s jazz scene than saxophonist and composer Bobby Watson. Through his long-held teaching post at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Watson was responsible for attracting and retaining much of the city’s young talent, including Ben Leifer, a former pupil of Watson’s. Bobby’s “Beatitudes” brings the album to a close with Larson once again on the alto, delivering the melody and solo statements with the same kind of fire often associated with Professor Watson. The depth of Adam’s improvisational prowess is displayed here, making use of the horn’s extended range and exploring the full arsenal of timbral colors available to him. Kizilarmut drops bombs in the outchorus before a compelling taper.”
Described by critic Howard Reich of The Chicago Tribune as “a player for whom the word ‘prodigious’ was coined”, and by Nate Chinen of The New York Times as “the sort of jazz musician who gets flagged early on as a promising talent and then hustles to meet every requirement for success”, Larson has garnered numerous awards that distinguish him as one of the most promising artists of his generation. A preeminent force on the jazz scene, Larson has released six critically acclaimed albums, and performs regularly at venues around the world. Beyond maintaining an active touring and recording schedule, Larson continues to be a sought-after clinician and master class presenter at notable high schools and colleges throughout the country and is the author of 13 successful jazz etude books that are currently being sold in over 45 countries.
With Love, From Chicago
Release date: February 11, 2022
Label: Outside in Music
Saxophonist Adam Larson's adventurous new trio recording, With Love, From Chicago, marks the first of a recorded trilogy that Larson plans to release over the next 18 months. Each consecutive release will feature the incomparable saxophonist alongside a new chordless trio, surrendering the support of harmonic accompaniment for the freedom and melodic interplay associated with trio outings of this nature. On With Love, From Chicago, Larson explores his relationship with a city where he gained the confidence to develop into the artist that he is today. On this release, Larson is joined by two of Chicago’s finest instrumentalists, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Dana Hall.
Described by critic Howard Reich of The Chicago Tribune as “a player for whom the word ‘prodigious’ was coined”, and by Nate Chinen of The New York Times as “the sort of jazz musician who gets flagged early on as a promising talent and then hustles to meet every requirement for success”, Larson has garnered numerous awards that distinguish him as one of the most promising artists of his generation. A preeminent force on the jazz scene, Larson has released five critically acclaimed albums, and performs regularly at such notable venues as Birdland, the Village Vanguard, the Blue Note, The 55 Bar, and Smalls. Beyond maintaining an active touring and recording schedule, Larson continues to be a sought-after clinician and master class presenter at notable high schools and colleges throughout the country. Larson is currently on faculty at UMKC where he is the head of the Arts Entrepreneurship program, and has also authored 12 successful jazz etude books that are currently being sold in over 45 countries.
Growing up just two hours downstate of Chicago (in Normal, IL), Larson’s love affair with the city actually began after the saxophonist moved to New York City and began to regularly perform in Chicago as a member of the Winard Harper Group. Larson notes “It was on that tour that Howard Reich (former critic for the Chicago Tribune) gave me a favorable performance review, which gave me the confidence to proceed at that point in my career. In a way, Chicago became a city that provided me with some external validation that I feel was crucial in my development. I really do love the city of Chicago and I’m thankful for all of the opportunities to perform over the years as both a leader and a sideman, as well as the numerous educational events I’ve done in the Chicago-land area.”
“When I began to map out the idea of creating a trilogy of trio recordings I looked to capture different musicians in cities that have played historical significance in my development and success as a musician,” reflects Larson. After the saxophonist first collaborated with Sommers and Hall in 2014 at a performance at Chicago’s The Jazz Showcase alongside saxophonist and mentor John Wojciechowski (whose tune “Twirl” is included on this record as an homage), he knew that he needed to dig into these musical relationships deeper. “The main concept of the album is to showcase the musical and personal relationships and trust that has developed between the trio through various experiences over the years and I’m quite certain the result is one of the best recorded examples of my playing, to date.”
Immediately perceivable by the listener is the trust and synergy between these three fine players. Chances are taken, split-second decisions are made, and every step of the way, the trio navigates its way through the harmonic landscape of these brilliant compositions with power and finesse. With Love, From Chicago begins with Larson’s sprightly “Angolan Babysitter”. Larson delivers the lively melody with a fervor, supported by the steadfast rhythm section’s tight-knit groove. Highlighting the diversity of Larson’s sphere of influences, the piece was heavily inspired by a rhythm that the composer heard and studied during a six-week tour in Africa, and the song’s B section is influenced by a 2Pac song called “I Ain’t Mad at Cha”, as both songs share similar bass motion.
“Twirl” is a composition by John Wojciechowski. This piece is one of many that really highlight the group’s stunning facility on their instruments and tremendous capacity for listening. In the fashion of some of the most essential chordless trio recordings such as Sonny Rollins Live at the Village Vanguard and Joe Henderson, State of the Tenor, the tenor saxophonist has to do much of the harmonic heavy-lifting, stating the harmony by outlining the chord changes within their improvisation. Larson has certainly proven himself up to the task, spinning melodic and rhythmic motifs in a staggering way, and using the inherent additional space created by the absence of a chordal instrument to his advantage. This is especially true on this bright-tempoed, vibrant, playful piece.
Larson notes ““Tierney’s Song” is written for my wife, Tierney. It took me a long time to write a song that I felt confident accurately reflected the beauty of my wife. I try very hard with this song to keep the melody singable- my wife and I met at MSM as she was finishing her Master’s in vocal jazz performance while I was finishing up my undergrad. She’s got a beautiful voice and I really enjoyed the touring we did together for a bit right after school. I tried to write with something that was “singable” in mind.” The album concludes on a truly powerful note with Sommers’ “Firestarter”. The piece features Sommers’ blisteringly fast walking-bass alongside Hall’s commanding percussive musings, underscoring some virtuosic melodic invention from the bandleader.
“As a trio, I think our sound is rather unique as it’s very hard to find a core rhythm section that has played together for nearly 20 years, like Clark and Dana have”, Larson notes. With Love, From Chicago captures a thrilling inventive energy between Larson and his Chicago-based collaborators, the album is a testament to the vitality and vibrancy of the jazz tradition in the Windy City and beyond.
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KKFI 90.1 FM
"The man with seven released albums. Decorated saxophonist and author Adam Larson. Teacher at the UMKC Conservatory and Manhattan School of Music." Listen to Larson's full radio interview with Hogge here.
"With Love, From Chicago, the album the Kansas City based saxophonist Adam Larson released in February, is outstanding. Good news: the followup With Love, From Kansas City is its equal." Read the review here.
THE BIG TAKEOVER
"Larson sounds both lighter than air and burning with energy on this brief album, clearly channeling the spirit of his ancestors and bringing it to life in the twenty-first century." Read the review here.
THE PITCH KC
"It was important to identify figures in the music that spanned multiple generations and points in the music.." Read the complete interview here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"Once again, Larson offers us his flying, bird-like saxophone solos with a chord less trio, leaving our imaginations to explode along with the music." Read the review here.
"With Love, From Kansas City (Outside In Music), by the Adam Larson Trio, is a love letter to that Kansas town wherein alto and tenor sax man/author/composer/educator Larson moved after 11 years in New York City." Read the review here.
"..the trio set up allows for a very liberating presence where all the players can shine in their own light while also working together to produce a creative and timeless jazz rooted body of work." Read the review here.
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ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"This nod to Chicago—where Larson gained the confidence to become the artist he was meant to be—is the first of three planned trio outings to be released over an eighteen-month period, each with a different bass and drum line-up. An ambitious plan. With Love, From Chicago is a terrific first step." Read the complete, 4-star review here.
RICHARD B. KAMINS
"..the music leaps out of the speakers and into the room." Read the complete review here.
"Normal native Adam Larson has just released the first of a trilogy of albums celebrating cities where he made his mark in jazz." Listen to the interview here.
MAKING A SCENE
"The chemistry and telepathic feel for each other that Sommers and Hall display on this effort would be difficult to match. They underpin and drive Larson’s explorative excursions wonderfully." Read the review here.
"Larson will certainly keep pursuing excellence in his following releases." Read the 4-star review here.
"When it's fully available, the project will no doubt prove fascinating in granting the listener the chance to do comparison studies between the trios and their respective albums." Read the complete review here.
"It’s not surprising that With Love, From Chicago is Larson’s best album to date." Read the complete review here.