Monday, January 18, 2016

Adam Larson's "Selective Amnesia": Prodigious Past, Giant Future

© Andrea Canter

" of the most potent and promising saxophonists of his generation, and composer of tunes with a keen, contemporary edge." -- Peter Hum, The Ottawa Citizen

Described by Howard Reich (Chicago Tribune) as "a player for whom the word 'prodigious' was coined," saxophonist Adam Larson can still boast the label "young lion." In his mid-20s, the Normal, IL native had already participated in high school honor bands (The Grammy Band, Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, YoungArts Jazz Fellows) and Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead before his undergraduate work at the Manhattan School of Music. Selected to the inaugural graduate class at MSM's Jazz Institute, Adam completed his Master's degree in Jazz Performance with honors in 2014, following the release of his first two recordings, his debut Simple Beauty and follow-up, Overdue Ovation.  Busy leading his own quintet at top venues in New York and beyond, Larson manages an active sideman schedule as well with such ensembles as the Ari Hoenig Nonet, Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Helen Sung Quartet and Otis Brown III Band. His third release, Selective Amnesia (Inner Circle Music, 2015) showcases the talents of his quintet with Matthew Stevens (guitar), Fabian Almazan (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Jimmy MacBride (drums).

Adam Larson (photo: Dave Frenzia)
Larson describes Selective Amnesia as "an album that documents my musical and personal growth over the past three years," particularly the ability to "looks at others and feel joy, admiration and inspiration." All eight tracks are Adam's compositions. Nothing gets muddled, everyone's articulation is clear, and the phrases have room to breathe, creating one intriguing conversation after another. The gently assertive "Suitable Replacement" opens the set, followed by the graceful, at times delicate "Vanished Theories" which Adam dedicates to the lives lost in the downing of the Malaysian Airlines flight. The funky grooveful of repeating riffs on "McWendel" honors Larson's former teachers Ben Wendel and Donny McCaslin, featuring a 2-minute series of exchanges with MacBride that recalls a Rudresh raga. Another tribute, "Gratitude" (for mentor Rich Perry) opens with a long and dark bass solo. Although Adam notes that "Disguise" reflects his days studying classical piano, this track seems more rooted in the melodic and twisty storytelling of modern jazz. "Shit Pay" (written "to commemorate every lack luster gig I've had") has a strong Afro-Cuban beat showcasing Almazan, Penman and McBride. "Your Loss" ("sucking it up and getting back to the practice room") highlights the saxophonist's acrobatic phrasing and challenging writing, while the closing "Dope Pope" features tandem lines between sax and bass that create the sense of two unison horns, while bubbling guitar and Rhodes give the track a swampy feel.

Selective Amnesia continues the starbright trajectory of a once-wunderkind now maturing into the role of  21st century composer, bandleader and exceptional performer.

The Adam Larson Quintet celebrates the release of Selective Amnesia on January 21 at the Jazz Gallery in Manhattan. More about Adam Larson at