The debut album from any hard-working jazz musician is a reason to celebrate for all jazz fans because it signals that another practitioner of the art form is adding in some way to its rich and storied recorded history. When that debut album comes from such a talented and prodigious musician, it’s even more reason to rejoice. Such an album is coming our way soon by a bona fide gifted young saxophonist, Adam Larson.
At 22 years old, Larson holds a degree from the Manhattan School of Music and is currently enrolled at the masters program there. He’s worked as a clinician and a host of master classes, and performs as a key member in the bands of Nils Weinhold and Michael Rodriguez. Thus already established as an and educator, sideman and student, Larson is plenty ready to show the world what he can do as a bandleader, composer and lead performer with his introductory project Simple Beauty.
Within this album is the portrait of a fully-formed talent who plays in a style resembling a couple of the finer saxophonists on the scene today: Chris Potter and Donny McCaslin. The compositional style is fresh, complex and shows some imagination. His quintet is plenty competent, too: joining him on this endeavor are Weinhold on guitar, Can Olgun on piano and Rhodes, Raviv Markovitz on acoustic bass and Jason Burger or Guilhem Flouzat on drums.
Jazz is full of subtleties, and on Simple Beauty, Larson shows a mastery of many of them, including the art of integrating harmony and rhythm into forceful compositions. It becomes the main appeal of the faster, shifty numbers like “Good Day Without You”, “Loophole” and “Tiny Conferences,” where Larson and Reinhold combine in some meticulously structured thematic lines while Olgun and Markovitz counter with complementing progressions of their own. On all of these songs, Larson displays an ability to improvise in ways that adapt to the songs at hand: “Good Day” is spunky, with notes cascading forth; “Loophole” is in the pocket and relentless; “Tiny Conferences” contains his best saxophone performance of the whole album, with a lot of range, and a good feel for flow.
Larson can also put the right touch on the ballads, too. He forges a pretty melody for “Away,” pouring out a soulful, liquid intonation. During “Simple Beauty,” he extends his notes appropriately for the soprano sax and ever so slightly sways to convey the meaning of the song’s title. He plays the tenor in a similar fashion, with the same, blissful effect on “No Words.”
The support he gets from the band is tight and sympathetic, particularly so from Weinhold. The guitarist’s light touch and superb pacing lift subdued tunes such as “Away” and plays soft, clean bop lines on “Strong Mind, Strong Body.” Elsewhere, he is beefing up the harmonics of the songs by doubling up and harmonizing with Larson, as on “Odd Man Out,” and the aforementioned “Good Day” and “Tiny Conferences.” His acoustic guitar engages in a duet with Larson’s sax on the tender folk ballad “Song With A Bridge” that provides a perfect coda to the album.
The songs are not always that simple, but there’s some beauty to be found in every one of them. Adam Larson’s fast start to his recording career bodes well for what’s up ahead for him. He’s already figured out so much with Simple Beauty, but listening to that disc leaves the feeling we’ve only begun to realize what he’s capable of doing.
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