Jason Adasiewicz makes beautiful vibes

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.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich

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

CHICAGO

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