CD review: Adam Larson

larsonSimple Beauty
(Adam Larson Music)

Well, maybe you can’t judge a CD by its cover, but how about by its title? I’m hooked on the concept and am hoping the playing within will reflect it.

Rio Sakairi, who programmes the music at The Jazz Gallery in New York, where he first heard this young tenor player sitting in with Ambrose Akinmusire, calls Larson’s decision to string these two words together as the title to his debut album “courageous”, and I do know where he’s coming from when he says:

“I often find that the young generation of musicians , who are now mostly trained through standardised Jazz programmes, are very fluent in the language of Jazz yet they tend to hide behind the fancy complexities of rhythm and harmony.”

So, how simple is the music that lies within? And how beautiful? Well, the album opens with a minute-long vamp which consists of a descending three note saxophone line against a rising four-note piano and bass line and drums which, on headphones, surround the listener in a percussive cushion. Simple and very effective.

From there we’re into Good Day Without You, a mid-tempo tune played by Larson and guitarist Nils Weinhold in tandem. It has a nice direct and pretty melody, though there are some little decorations, and relaxing and tightening of the rhythm that are less “simple”. And then we’re into Larson’s first solo.

He has a strong and unpretentious tone, and a line that is really easy to follow but which takes the listener on an interesting ride. There are some great tongued descents and then luxuriously taken swooping bends and back up. It’s a bit like a scenic roller-coaster ride through soaring forests and across gleaming lakes. Pianist Can Olgun follows a sympathetic path in his solo. Bassist Raviv Markovitz’s singing behind his tasty bass solo which closes the track is audible thanks to the good recording sound, which again does full justice to Jason Burger’s drums.

On to a ballad called Away, and it’s just dripping with a quiet gorgeousness. Weinhold gets to stretch a little here and he, too, has bought into the Larson philosophy. At one point he holds on to just two or three notes to weave a melody and shows how in the right creative hands less can be quite enough. From there the leader winds up the tension, and winds it up again to some tasty, squeezed top notes before the band relaxes onto a high and lyrical plateau, and back to the theme which now sounds very different.

The title track shows Larson equally lyrical on soprano, once more eschewing any showing off in favour of more eloquent and heartfelt storytelling.

There are lots of slowly revealed and thoughtfully considered stories told within the improvisations on this disc. They might often be relatively simple harmonically and melodically but their emotional content runs a lot deeper. And beautiful this playing certainly is.

Yes, in this instance, you can judge a CD by its title. A great start from a player and composer to keep an eye on. And a nice band, too.

Find out more at adamlarsonjazz.com

 

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