Tuesday, January 19, 2010

CD Review: Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown - Varmint

Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown

Wasn't sure exactly when this came out, as it came in the mail sometime around early December. Turns out it was released last September.

Varmint is another piece from the ever shifting crew of musician-leaders out of Chicago that all play together on each other's sessions. They don't treat it like indie rockers, where a band adds or subtracts one player and changes their name but essentially sounds the same. These Chicago jazz guys have a lot of distinct ideas going for them.

Jason Adasiewicz (a-dah-shev-its) played drums with indie rock bands like Pinetop Seven and Central Falls, but during college he picked up the vibes. After trying to use them in a more abrasive settings - liner note writer Peter Margasak recalls a performance where Adasiewicz seemed like he was trying to beat the vibes into the ground - he started exploring the subtleties of the instrument. (For the sake of dynamics contrast, he also toured with pensive songwriter Edith Frost, so the gentler side has always been there.) That understated approach makes Varmint - Rolldown's second album - a strong set.
Drummer Frank Rosaly never gets too overbearing, or even gets too loud in the mix, yet he weaves all kinds of changes that bend and contour the music. There is an implicit feeling that the band could cut loose at any minute. Their strength lies in the way they can keep a listener's attention, wondering what will happen next. When cornetist Josh Berman fires off a solo of growls and guttural smears in "Hide," it's one of the few times where the music gets free and wild, but it doesn't really pull the music off towards the left.
It's telling that the group's token non-original track is Andrew Hill's "The Griots." Adasiewicz's writing could be compared to the late pianist's work, which never fell into unhinged, free territory, nor was it straight bop, existing instead somewhere in between. Rolldown's version of "The Griots" sticks close to the original vibes-and-rhythm arrangement, but fleshes out the harmonies with the two horns.
Berman, alto saxophonist/clarinetist Aram Shelton and Adasiewicz have proven themselves numerous times to be gifted soloists on each other sessions, and Varmint continues the feeling. Adasiewicz regularly sings/scats/grumbles along with his solos, and uses vibrato and sustain on his instrument to achieve a strong, mysterious quality. Bassist Jason Roebke even gets some spotlight time, bowing a solo on "Hide."

Of all the periods in Blue Note's history, the early '60s period of Andrew Hill and trombonist Grachan Moncur III might be the least emulated in their catalog. Adasiewicz has taken hints from that era and helped it to develop his own personality. Hopefully it won't take several decades and a Mosaic box for listeners to catch on. Hint, hint.

1 comment:

dave bernabo said...

I'll have to pick this up. The last Rolldown disc was fantastic!