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Adam Larson: Second City

Dan Bilawsky By

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When you hear "Second City" and think about improvisation, comedy comes to mind before jazz. But this music is no laughing matter. Saxophonist Adam Larson is one serious talent, as this, his fourth album to date, makes clear.

While Larson has called New York home for the past decade, Second City was recorded in its namesake locale—Chicago. It's an album rooted to Larson's Midwestern upbringing but a statement of maturity that could only emerge after some serious time away from the roost. New York has done him well, as these eight tunes demonstrate.

With bassist Clark Sommers, pianist Rob Clearfield, and drummer Jimmy Macbride by his side, Larson digs into a variety of different settings with aplomb. For starters there's "Who Even Is That?," an excitable introduction that speaks to the annual arrival of jazz musicians pursuing their dreams in The Big Apple. Then Larson delivers "Out The Window," a more reflective number that takes cues from his young son's piano explorations and features a wonderfully pensive statement from Sommers; "First Step," strutting with some NOLA swagger and offering a little space to Macbride; a "Smells Like Teen Spirit" cover which takes an airier, groovier, and more developed approach than The Bad Plus' famous rendition that initially drew the leader to the song; and "Sleep Now," an appropriately soothing lullaby that Larson penned for his son pre-arrival.

Some of the greatest shows of strength on Second City come toward its end. "Perpetuity," born of observations on politics and the polemics that come with it, is a lift-off into the stratosphere that gives Larson a chance to flex his muscles and fly. Then "Uphill Climb" goes the other way, probing into the surface to see what comes of the struggles to make your mark and get yourself heard as a musician in New York. Both numbers speak to a resolute streak in Larson's sound and standing, as does the excitable "Breakout," a piece which closes the album and showcases Clearfield's clear-headed explorations and Larson's extreme flexibility. There are no missteps or missed opportunities here. No matter how you slice it, Second City proves to be first-rate.

Track Listing: Who Even Is That?; Out the Window; First Step; Smells Like Teen Spirit; Sleep Now; Perpetuity; Uphill Climb; Breakout.

Personnel: Adam Larson: tenor saxophone; Rob Clearfield: piano, Rhodes and Wurlitzer; Clark Sommers: bass; Jimmy Macbride: drums.

Title: Second City | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Inner Circle Music

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