Leaps and Sounds
Etudes for saxophone
Review Darren Pettit
Adam Larson is one of the tenor saxophonists that I have been keeping an eye on the past several years. His command of the jazz language and ability to play at a high level has been both entertaining and inspiring for myself and many of my students. From the high school kid that played in the Grammy Band to the seasoned professional performing at the Village Vanguard, Adam has acquired the credentials to be sought after as a brilliant saxophonist and improviser. Recently he has taken his performance and teaching experience and channeled it into an etude book, adding pedagogue to his impressive resume. He brings his technical facility, creativity, and his unique point of view to his new book “Leaps & Sounds: 12 Contemporary Etudes for Jazz Saxophone.”
The book is comprised of twelve etudes built over the changes of standards, most of which are not in standard keys. It is specifically billed as an etude book for the “jazz saxophone” and employs language that most jazz musicians will recognize, but I think it would also be a good resource for classical students that want to branch out into the jazz world. This book is not a regurgitation of licks that he has acquired over the years, but instead, it is a very creative approach to using octave displacement and large intervallic shifts over an essentially bebop language.
One of the key issues that “Leaps and Sounds” addresses is the use of large intervals. When using large intervals to exploit the entire range of the instrument (including altissimo), control over the air and fingers is essential. This forces the saxophonist to pay attention to tone and technical issues in a way that may not be addressed with scalar exercises. Octave displacement and intervallic leaps are the key elements of these exercises, and while playing through several of the etudes, I found myself focused on relaxing my embouchure and hands to get everything to speak with consistent tone and pitch. I have encountered intervallic exercises before with the “Intervallistic Concept” by Eddie Harris (another good resource), but nothing that is written over tunes like this. The closest thing to this might be a transcription book of Donny McCaslin solos. A good example of octave displacement is this chromatic scale in etude #4 (ex. 1).
The etudes also use vocabulary that is common in the bebop language. Chromatic approaches and enclosures are abundant, the use of the altered extensions and their resolutions is common, and tritone substitutions as well as backdoor ii-Vs are often used. Adam left the common changes over the tunes and did not provide the substitutions in parenthesis intentionally to give the player the flavor of the altered changes without altering the changes themselves. The lines are logical and idiomatic to the saxophone, and they do not give the player the feeling that difficulty is achieved for the sake of difficulty alone. Adam said, “I wanted the etudes to be difficult, but not too difficult.” The etudes are designed to be accessible, but not easy.
In reviewing the book, I noticed that it would also make a good resource for ii-V mining. The ii-V-I below (ex. 2) would be a great lick to learn in all keys, and it contains the tritone sub as well. It is not the standard linear bebop lick that one might find in a Clifford Brown solo, but upon closer inspection, the player should notice some nice half-step voice-leading. Every etude has a handful of gems that would be beneficial for any musician to transpose though the keys.
In conclusion, “Leaps and Sounds” is a terrific etude book. The etudes are fun to play, difficult (but not too difficult), and quirky. The large intervals make it a good etude book for developing a consistent tone, good intonation, and technical mastery throughout the range of the horn. I would recommend it for college level jazz and classical saxophone students who are actively working on altissimo and developing a jazz vocabulary.