Adam Larson, saxophonist and band leader: Something Else! Interview

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In this late 20s, Adam Larson has already overseen four albums as a band leader – with his latest, and perhaps best, arriving in 2017. Second City, which was recorded in just one day, finds Larson working with an updated lineup featuring Rob Clearfield, Clark Sommers and Jimmy Macbride. It was recorded at Electrical Audio in Chicago – thus, the album title – rather than his adopted home in New York City. Adam Larson joined Preston Frazier for a Something Else! Sitdown to discuss Second City, its creation – including the decision to cover a song by Nirvana – and his future plans …

PRESTON FRAZIER: Second City seems to have a more organic feel than your prior release, 2015’s Selective Amnesia. What do you attribute the change in sound to?
ADAM LARSON: That’s interesting. The band on Selective Amnesia was my most consistently working band in New York for about 18 months, leading up to the recording of the album. I felt like the chemistry on that record was overall pretty great. For Second City, the band consists of two musicians from Chicago that I’ve been playing with on and off for the past few years when I make stops in the Midwest, as well as the New York City-based drummer Jimmy Macbride, who was also on Selective Amnesia. We recorded Second City in Chicago, in the midst of a four-night run at the Jazz Showcase. We also did a masterclass at Roosevelt University the day before we went into the studio. So, by the time we recorded, we had played the music together for five straight sets. That, coupled with the fact that each musician had been playing and living with this music for quite awhile prior to the run at the Showcase, I think had a great effect on the chemistry of this project.

PRESTON FRAZIER: There are eight strong songs on the new album, one of which is a cover of the Nirvana classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” How did the cover find its way to the album?
ADAM LARSON: I was practicing an interval pattern that consisted of playing a mixture of scales in sevenths and whole steps. For whatever reason, while playing through this pattern in the key of D major, I heard the opening phrase to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” fitting inside of the exercise. I rarely do covers of anything, and given the fact that a lot of my music is almost rock-jazz in feel, I figured this would be a fun one to try and tackle. Playing this song in different venues in the past year has almost always gotten a rise out of the audience and I hope it brings more people into the set, the album and the music overall.

PRESTON FRAZIER: How has your composition style changed since Selective Amnesia?
ADAM LARSON: I’m not sure there has been too much change in my compositional process or style since Selective Amnesia. Most of my tunes still contain mixed meters and a rock- and modern jazz-influenced rhythmic beat in mind. One change is that the majority of the songs on this new album were written on the saxophone first, and then completed at the piano – a process that is the direct opposite of most of the songs written on my first three albums. I’m always interested in challenging myself to write a good melody, and fill in the harmony and rhythm based on the strength or the melodic content. It’s very tricky and I’m, of course, still developing.

PRESTON FRAZIER: You’ve changed up your players since the last album. How did you become involved with Rob Clearfield, Clark Sommers and Jimmy Macbride?
ADAM LARSON: Clark Sommers and I met via Chicago saxophonist John Wojciechowski, in May of 2014. I was given a week-long run at the Jazz Showcase for the first time as a leader. That featured a two-tenor saxophone concept, with John as the other saxophonist. John pretty much insisted that I call Clark – something I had been intimidated to do, up until that point. Since that run in 2014, Clark and I have played numerous times together in the Midwest, and also developed a strong relationship that goes beyond music. He’s one of the most generous human beings I’ve ever met, and having him in my band brings a positive energy that is of the utmost importance. Similarly, I met Rob via recommendation from Clark, John and another Chicago saxophonist named Geof Bradfield. Bradfield, like Wojciechowksi, has always been spot on with his recommendations of musicians for my different projects – and they knocked it out of the park in their assessment of Rob Clearfield. He’s on the same wavelength as me, musically, and brings a certain character to the music that is hard to define. I just know that I really like it. Jimmy has been in my projects since he moved to the city in 2009. We met in an all-state conglomerate big band in high school [back in 2007] and have been making music together ever since. I knew that I wanted him on this project, and I was fortunate enough to have him take part.

PRESTON FRAZIER: It’s amazing that the album was recorded in just one day. How did you prepare for the recording sessions? Were the arrangements done by the group?
ADAM LARSON: The run at the Jazz Showcase and the masterclass prior to the recording really helped everyone get comfortable, but not too comfortable, with the music. For my three previous records, I had months to obsess and stress out about the recording – none of which helped me in the studio. I really liked the fact that we had two days before the recording to get into the music and record it while it was fresh. All the arrangements were mine, but I’m very loose about interpretation, because my way is not the only way and it would be foolish of me to not take into consideration the thoughts and ideas of my bandmates.

PRESTON FRAZIER: What are your touring plans for the rest of the year?
ADAM LARSON: I’m going to be having my CD release event for this album in New York at the Jazz Gallery on Friday, September 29th. From there, I’ll be heading to Holland to present a masterclass at the Conservatory in Utrecht. From there, I’ll be heading to Sopot, Poland to play as a guest artist at the Sopot Jazz Festival. I’m doing a lot of traveling and guest artist work in November, and in the new year. It is my hope to have more opportunities to work with this band in the coming months.


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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