Adam Larson – Second City (2017)

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been a couple of years since Adam Larson’s stellar Selective Amnesia. It’s even more fascinating that this ‘young’ saxophonist now has four releases under his belt.

His latest, Second City, is Larson’s second for Inner City Music. It continues to build on the solid foundation of Selective Amnesia, but at the same time this new one isn’t an attempt at repeating past glories.

Adam Larson moved aggressively, recording the album in one day in March of 2017. For this musical venture, Larson formed a group with Rob Clearfield (piano, Rhodes and Wurlitzer), Clark Sommers (bass) and Jimmy MacBride (drums). Larson also moved his recording to Electrical Audio in Chicago, (aka the Second City), instead of using a studio in his adopted home of New York City. The result is a familiarity that comes from playing with a core group he has toured with before. They bring a level of acumen and dexterity fitting Adam Larson’s seven strong original compositions and one cover.

“Who Even is That?” the opening track, hits you right out of the gate with Larson’s warm tone and its dancing melody. MacBride moves the song nicely, as Larson skates above the melody of Clearfield’s Fender Rhodes. The song sets a high bar for the rest of Second City with Clearfield’s solos meeting the expectation set by Larson’s tenor. “Out the Window” slows things up, if only slightly. It’s a fine jazz ballad, again relying on Larson’s warm tone to move it along.

“First Step” provides the appropriate counterpoint to “Out the Window.” Larson and Clearfield engage in a delicate dance which recalls New Orleans jazz with a Midwest flare. Clearfield’s acoustic piano and MacBride’s march-like backbeat are playful yet powerful.

Next up is the cover of the Nirvana song “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It’s a fine version, however the songs has been covered so much by others that part of its luster is gone. This update also serves to showcase just how strong Adam Larsen’s original compositions are.

“Sleep Now” is a slow and tender lullaby build around MacBride’s fine brush work and Sommers’ snaky bass. The song simmers from beginning to end, with fine solos by Sommers and Larsen. Before you know it, the song is over. “Perpetuity” smokes with intensity, from MacBride’s intensive rim work and Larsen’s dance with Clearfield’s piano. It’s a playful and charming romp.

“Uphill Climb” provides a different texture, showcasing Adam Larson’s versatility as a composer, arranger and band leader. Larson’s solo dances playfully with the complex melody, yet seems totally engaged with it. The complex rhythms are exciting and evocative. The dynamics of the song, however, never intrude on its beauty.

“Breakout,” is a fitting coda to this fine selection of songs. Larsen displays his mastery of the tenor sax, only to be challenged by Clearfield’s Fender Rhodes. Indeed, the entire band pulls out all the stops, with the rhythm section providing a fast and loose backing. And so ends Second City, a triumphant outing for Adam Larson which is well worth your attention.


Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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