June 22, 2012
Chicago has a way of producing fabulously eccentric, fiercely individualistic jazz stars.
From the free-ranging tenor sax solos of Von Freeman and Fred Anderson to the quirky songwriting of Patricia Barber to the explosive reed work of Ken Vandermark, this city has given jazz some of its boldest innovators.
Among the latest wave of fearless experimenters, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz has been drawing considerable national attention, and for good reason. He addresses the instrument like no one before him, veering freely between hammered attacks and warm melody, between far-out harmony and thoroughly accessible rhythms. Perhaps because he's a drummer at heart — and grew up fascinated by Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin — he bringsrock 'n' roll energy to jazz compositions of remarkable sophistication and unpredictability.
He also represents the apparently never-ending expansion of Chicago's new-music scene, rising up from a community that includes such leading figures as Vandermark, drummer Mike Reed, cornetist Josh Berman, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, drummer Frank Rosaly and uncounted others — all Adasiewicz collaborators.
This weekend, Adasiewicz's career reaches a new prominence, as the vibist leads his widely admired Sun Rooms trio, with drummer Reed and bassist Nate McBride, in its first performances at the Green Mill Jazz Club.
How did a kid from Crystal Lake land himself at the forefront of 21st-century jazz experimentation?--------------
It's a sound no one can resist: ethereal one moment, explosive the next, hauntingly lyrical after that.
It resonates in jazz clubs and rock rooms, lures listeners young and old, and has become practically ubiquitous in new-music Chicago.
If somehow you haven't already heard the vibraphone work of Chicagoan Jason Adasiewicz, chances are you will soon. For as his national reputation grows, Adasiewicz (pronounced ah-da-SHEV-itz) has become a kind of symbol of innovative jazz in this city, much as saxophonist Ken Vandermark was half a generation ago. Like Vandermark — an Adasiewicz hero — the vibist flourishes in far-flung bands, defying categorization.
In the latest acknowledgment of his rising stature, Adasiewicz will bring his acclaimed Sun Rooms trio to the Green Mill Jazz Club for the first time this weekend, playing a two-night engagement that's likely to draw large crowds. For at 34, Adasiewicz has gathered increasingly widespread attention, critics across the country noting the ephemeral, unconventional nature of his work.
Indeed, Adasiewicz really sounds like no other vibes player, past or present. Which, apparently, is precisely the idea.
"I'm interested in hitting the instrument as hard as I can to create these overtones that you're not supposed to create," says Adasiewicz, speaking in the attic studio of the home he shares with his wife and young daughter.
"Not that you're not supposed to create — but when you learn how to play
e, you learn a lot about dampening and articulating your lines so it doesn't all blur together — and I'm trying to do the complete opposite, which is embracing what the instrument does. It rings."
Certainly it does when Adasiewicz is at work, but the increasingly hard edge of his playing during the past couple of years tells only part of the story. He also can produce a luminous tonal glow, as well as an unabashed tunefulness one doesn't necessarily expect to encounter from the city's jazz firebrands. Adasiewicz, in other words, can play as "free" or "outside" as the next jazz iconoclast, but he also is unafraid to compose bona fide songs, to build performances by playing the "head" of a tune then transforming it, the way earlier generations of jazz musicians did (and mainstream players still do).
He can conjure rock-band energy, but he also shows the deft hand of a composer who knows exactly what he wants to occur during the timeline of a piece. When Adasiewicz is at his best, jazz, rock, pop and other sensibilities converge — or perhaps it's more accurate to say they ebb and flow, according to the demands of the tune at hand.
You can hear as much from Adasiewicz's discography as bandleader, which dates only to 2008. His savvy horn writing and atmospheric vibes accompaniment on "Rolldown" — his recording debut as leader — prompted the All Music Guide to observe, "Adasiewicz has assembled a quintet of astounding musical proportion and depth, playing his tricky music that seems to have no limits of imagination, wit or wisdom." DownBeat marveled that Adasiewicz "has become so ubiquitous in Chicago that it comes as a bit of a shock to realize that this is the first record to come out under his own name."
Adasiewicz has sounded even more striking on his two Sun Rooms recordings, and not only because the trio setting — with drummer Mike Reed and bassist Nate McBride — by definition puts a greater spotlight on him than the Rolldown quintet. Though Sun Rooms operates as a partnership among three creative artists, Adasiewicz writes the tunes and stands in the forefront, his unusual harmonic choices and vivid instrumental colors evident on the band's most recent release, "Spacer" (Delmark Records), one of the best recordings of 2011. The album does nothing less than re-imagine what a jazz trio can achieve, Adasiewicz, Reed and McBride inventing a fluid sonic interplay.
That Adasiewicz has arrived at such an unorthodox, new-meets-old aesthetic makes sense, once you consider his unconventional journey in music, which started far from jazz.
Born in Wichita , Kan., and raised in Crystal Lake, Adasiewicz began drum lessons at school in fifth grade but "didn't like it because I wanted someone to show me how to play arock 'n' rollbeat." Adasiewicz found something closer to what he was looking for at a local music store, where his drum instructor surprised him one day by unveiling a vibraphone.
"When he opened it up," Adasiewicz recalls, "he played a chromatic scale as fast as he could, and he had the pedal all the way down, he had these hard mallets — it was so loud, it was like a cymbal."
Or several of them, and the sound stuck with Adasiewicz, even if he still clung to the drums because "I loved the physicality of it," he says. "I loved that it's always moving, it always finds its way in the mix somewhere, it never lays out, rarely lays out. It's just a constant force."
At Crystal Lake Central High School, Adasiewicz immersed himself in recordings by Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention and was smitten by the percussion work of Ruth Underwood, as well as by his father's Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin records. A rock drummer in the making, Adasiewicz signed up as a drum major at DePaul University in 1995 but bailed three years later. "Going into it, it was super great," says Adasiewicz of DePaul. But "there's this school (called) the city of Chicago — I started to get absorbed in. … What I wanted to do was perform."
So in 1998 Adasiewicz took a job working in a sandwich shop and, shortly thereafter, got the call that launched his career and altered the sound of his music: A friend told him that the eclectic band Pinetop Seven was looking for a vibes player, and Adasiewicz suddenly found himself on the road.
"That's when the vibe clicked, right when I got on the road and got onstage, all these great rock clubs, (terrible) rock clubs, playing for the people that came out," Adasiewicz remembers. "Man, this is what's happening."
Adasiewicz proceeded to work with a variety of pop and rock bands — Manishevitz, Central Falls, Calexico, as well as with songwriters Edith Frost and Simon Joyner — not the usual course of study for a jazz vibist-in-the-making. All the while, he was clerking at the Jazz Record Mart, hearing on the sound system for the first time the revolutions of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and other Chicago experimenters.
In the late '90s, Adasiewicz had one more epiphany: seeing the Vandermark 5 at the Empty Bottle. "It was like a rock show," Adasiewicz says. "It was very powerful, very driving; there was all this detail to the compositions. I was writing music at that time, and it was like: 'Wow, that's something I could have written.' There was that punk-rock vibe to it, too, that definitely appealed to me."
About this time, Adasiewicz shared an apartment with two other rising Chicago talents, cornetist Josh Berman and saxophonist Jon Doyle, each searching for his place in the music.
Recalls Berman: "When I moved in with (Adasiewicz) in 1999, I don't know if he knew a jazz tune, like even one. We played all the time, him, me and Jon Doyle, but it was not jazz."
In spring 2002, Adasiewicz moved to Madison, Wis., where his then-girlfriend (now wife) pursued her doctorate, and he began writing music prolifically. By 2004, he had formed the quintet Rolldown and traveled to Chicago regularly to hear the band play what he had penned. These scores became the basis for the album "Rolldown," recorded in 2005 after Adasiewicz had returned to Chicago and became part of a burgeoning scene that included Berman, saxophonist Aram Shelton, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, drummers Reed, Frank Rosaly, Tim Daisy and many more.
If "Rolldown" introduced the listening public to Adasiewicz's gifts, Sun Rooms, his second attempt at a trio, gave him the platform he deserved as vibraphonist-composer. Though Adasiewicz says he was "always scared" to be so exposed in a trio, some encouraging words from guitarist Jeff Parker persuaded him to persevere.
But the very prominence and novelty of a vibraphone in a creative-jazz trio may obscure Adasiewicz's other gifts.
"It's not so much about his playing," drummer Reed says. "He's a really interesting composer. I think the subtleties of his composing are maybe the large skill set and idea set that he has. … That's something more (important) to talk about, rather than the ringing overtones.
"He's not a gunslinger. He's not like a crazy soloist, but he has a unique way of writing.
"And, in the forefront, he's very collaborative. … He's very great about embracing what happens in the music. … If I don't like something, I'll say it. And he'll say, 'OK, I can work with that.'
"That's a great personality, and also why he has become so ubiquitous."
Equally important, Adasiewicz clearly is taking the vibraphone to new places.
"When I fell in love with jazz, I fell in love with it on the drums," Adasiewicz says. "And it was because it was always constantly moving, and that's what I want that thing to do."
In his hands, it is.
Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms
When: 9 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway
Tickets: $12; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com
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