Normal native Adam Larson sounded more relaxed than during previous interviews. Has marriage and a very young son mellowed the intensity of the Type-A saxophonist?
“Man it’s the biggest butt-kicker in the world (to be a father),” beamed Larson via Skype from his home in New York City. “I’m so blessed to have my son Jack and my amazing wife Tierney.”
Bubbling husband and father? Yes.
Mellowing with age?
“It’s funny you say that, because if you talk with my wife and my parents you might hear the exact opposite,” said Larson. "I don’t know … I have learned to lower the punches a little more, and being a father has put things into a perspective that I couldn’t have had before. You hear from friends that being a father is life changing and ‘duh’ I guess.”
It certainly hasn’t slowed the hard-charging Larson.
“I feel musically like things are in the right place and I’m just trying like always to keep hustling and get the next thing on the books,” said Larson.
His new album “Second City,” is one of the next things. The album title references his extended time playing and recording in Chicago over the past year. Son Jack was the inspiration for one song.
“’Sleep Now’ was written preemptively as a lullaby before he was born,” said Larson. “My playing though has the adverse effect on Jack. Usually when I play he gets very excited and he wants to come in and dance, which is cute to observe.”
The then not even 1-year-old Jack literally had a hand in writing another song on “Second City.”
“’Out The Window’ is a song we kind of composed together. With Jack on my knee, I was trying to finish this song for an upcoming performance. He put his fingers on the keyboard, which he had never seen before. What he put down was actually a pretty nice chord, so I wrote the tune based off that,” said Larson.
The lone cover song on “Second City” is just the second he’s recorded over four albums. Well, other than the classics recorded for homemade projects that circulated in central Illinois during his junior high and high school years. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was an interesting choice for someone who was about his son's current age when Nirvana threw its “Nevermind” Molotov cocktail at the corporate music industry. He said the Iowa City Jazz Festival at age 15 was his introduction to the song.
“The Bad Plus was playing it, so I always thought it was a Bad Plus composition,” confessed Larson. “It came on iTunes one day while my wife and I were sitting in our apartment right before she was pregnant. I said 'I know this song but I never realized there were lyrics.' And my wife looked at me like I was a complete idiot,” he said chuckling.
Larson’s own songwriting reflects his no-nonsense attitude and intensity. His compositions tend to favor complexity and moods over memorable hooks, not unlike The Bad Plus.
“There is a fair amount of complexity to the melodic lines, and on top of that there can be complexity to the rhythmic structure of the song,” said Larson.
But he pushed back a bit too, saying he receives compliments from people with a limited jazz vocabulary that his songs have enough engagement to keep them interested.
“They say, 'There’s an element I can’t quantify or never heard before that I like.' I think there are a fair amount of tunes on this new record that can be classified as perhaps saxophone-powered technics, in that there are very challenging melodies written for the saxophone,” said Larson.
That complexity often comes from writing from the saxophone. He said the piano usually results in a simpler sound.
“And that correlates to my ability on both instruments,” said Larson. “I’m a much more adept saxophonist than I am a pianist. The song ‘Perpetuity’ (from ‘Second City’) is a song that IS about a mood. That song was very, very intense from the get-go and not a whole lot of let-up until the very end.”
It’s almost as if Adam Larson is describing himself. And that intensity and increasing virtuosity is not going unnoticed. Critics, including this review by Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune and this one from Troy Dostert in All About Jazz magazine rave at Larson’s creativity, as well as his ability to make bold statements and play with an intensity that perhaps tomorrow may never come. Whether or not the torrent of notes Larson can seemingly dish out endlessly suits a critics fancy, that critic never walks away from an Adam Larson performance thinking they got shortchanged.
Adam Larson plays with the Victor Bastidas DePaises Project on Oct. 19 at the CU Jazz Festival in Champaign. On Oct. 20 he returns to Carl’s Pro Band in Bloomington for a 7 p.m. performance with DePaises trio.
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