Adam Larson may hail initially from Normal (Illinois), but there is absolutely nothing typical or average, in terms of style or ability, about the now-Kansas-City-based saxophonist. He has gathered a trio with comparable strengths and, behind his towering tenor, they create a showcase of prime progressive jazz.
The ride begins with "Sleepers," a shape-shifting opener with nothing drowsy about it which flows through multiple motifs. Larson soars across impressively unique arrangements into segmented duets between pianist Fabian Almazan
and drummer Jimmy Macbride
which immediately confirm their percussive power.
"False Pageantry" leaps into a joyful acid-bop rabbit-hole of sharply contained synth effects before "Twenty Something" gives Almazan another chance to stretch out on the keys. "Invisible Barriers" slows the tempo, though not too much, for some poignant interludes before accelerating back to higher gear for the second half segment. Bassist Matt Clohesy
does an admirable job providing a subtle, effective anchor throughout.
The project's compositional complexity is prevalent enough to merit some feedback from Larson regarding his songwriting methodology and, when contacted, he offered some insights into the process: "It's tricky to determine when songs are complete but getting the chance to play them many times with different musicians allows me to make adjustments, some major, some small, until I reach a point where I feel that one is strong enough to stand on its own legs," explained Larson. "My music is fairly specific on paper but the musicians on this record have the ability and sensibility to take it to new places and rearrange parts of the songs on the spot, which is always exciting to me as the composer and also as an improviser."
"My abilities at the piano are less than what I'm capable of doing on the saxophone, so when I compose a melody at the piano, it tends to be simpler in nature and thus easier to sing and perhaps more lyrical compared to the complex, snakier lines that I might compose using the saxophone prior to when I fill in the harmony and rhythmic components."
The final three pieces are more conservatively structured overall. Larson proceeds on more formally anchored runs during "Listen With Your Eyes" and "Bright," demonstrating he can color very well between the mainstream lines when he chooses to. The closing "Boom-Bap" makes a smooth return to more frequent changeups, reaffirming that Larson is probably more effective when he proceeds from less typically explored parameters.
Either way, any modern jazz fan should find plenty to embrace. This is celebratory music for active intellectuals, full of unusual phrases, with just about the only repetitive thing being consistent high energy.
Track Listing: Sleepers; False Pageantry; Twenty-Something; Invisible Barriers; Listen With Your Eyes; Bright; Boom-Bap.
Personnel: Adam Larson: saxophone; Fabian Almazan: piano, keyboards, synths; Matt Clohesy: bass; Jimmy Macbride: drums.
Title: Listen With Your Eyes
| Year Released: 2019
| Record Label: Ropeadope