Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Adam Larson: With Love, From Chicago (Outside In)

A review of the saxophone virtuoso's first of three albums dedicated to cities

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.
Adam Larson: With Love, From Chicago
The cover of With Love, From Chicago by Adam Larson

Adam Larson is a young saxophone virtuoso brimming with justified confidence. He self-produced his first record while still in high school, graduated with two degrees from the Manhattan School of Music, and is now on a conservatory faculty. Yet With Love, From Chicago has a humility that leavens the abundant music theory and prodigy’s ego.

For this trio record, Larson enlists a pair of Windy City stalwarts: bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Dana Hall. On the opener, Larson’s “Angolan Babysitter,” Hall engages Larson in spirited call-and-response, then delivers a lengthy solo. The next three compositions are by Sommers, and all of them (but especially “The Time You Forgot You Knew”) create crucial space for his woody tone.

Fostering a genuine ensemble over a leader/sidemen dynamic better showcases Larson’s talents. His tenor can move with quicksilver fluidity, but, like early Donny McCaslin or Joel Frahm (he’s studied with both), the unpredictability impresses more than the speed. His phrases variously tumble and veer, feint and plunge, or suddenly rear up and poise like an alert animal. There is heart in the technique: On Sommers’ ballad “In Waiting,” Larson’s vibrato unearths the emotional complexity of determination amid uncertainty.

Larson’s tour de force is on the title song from the 1948 movie Portrait of Jenny. The plush, bittersweet blues conjures Lester Young; the playful sidebars and tempo shifts are reminiscent of Sonny Rollins. But if you’re looking for joyrides, the trio chops and tosses Monk’s “We See” at a puree pace.

It’s not surprising that With Love, From Chicago is Larson’s best album to date. And it won’t be surprising if his next one—the second of his planned triplet of tributes to cities influential to his development, utilizing rhythm sections from those locales—is better still.

Learn more about With Love, From Chicago on Amazon & Apple Music!