Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown - "Green Grass" (Varmint)
Consult the jazz vibraphone flow chart and it’s easy to connect the dots between major players from Lionel Hampton to Milt Jackson up through Bobby Hutcherson. After that last though, the identities of innovators get a bit more controvertible with names like Khan Jamal, Steve Nelson and Matt Moran as contenders. Chicago-based Jason Adasiewicz is a relatively new addition to the playing field and while his membership with the masters is still debatable, the caliber of his work so far certainly places him a position for early consideration. Varmint continues the course set by his working ensemble Rolldown on their self-titled debut for 482 Music. Seven tracks, just like the previous set, but this time there’s an overt nod to inspiration in the inclusion of Andrew Hill’s “The Griots” as a closer.
Apt comparisons to Sixties Blue Note-era Hutcherson have been plentiful in press in describing both Adasiewicz’s sound and his spacious composing style which embraces freer interplay without abandoning an underlying allegiance to head-solos orthodoxy for too long. A closer cousin still might be the lesser known Walt Dickerson. Adasiewicz generates a similarly warm and luminous sonority with his mallets and makes regular use of his instrument’s motor to blur his clusters into vivid watercolor shades. The rest of the group is comparably equipped on the creative front with cornetist Josh Berman and alto saxophonist Aram Shelton putting their instruments through rigorous and rewarding pacings. Several obvious antecedents for Shelton are Eric Dolphy and Jackie McLean, but his doubling on clarinet keeps the influences from hardening into calcified imitation. Berman has a full range of tonal effects at his disposal that work particularly well with the leader’s own wide chromatic palette. Bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly work in keen collusion as well, pulling together plushly supportive frameworks for the other three while still asserting themselves prominently in the mix. The balance is particularly effective on the sharply drawn suspensions that propel “Hide,” a piece that initially sounds like a lost outtake from Dolphy’s Out to Lunch before sliding down the rabbit hole of controlled dissonance.
Other standouts in the program include “Dagger,” a pointed little tune that’s also a proving ground for Shelton’s piquant clarinet and “I Hope She Is Awake,” which simultaneously slows the pace down and opens things up in a stirring ballad blend of expansive solo statements and colorful ensemble consensus. Rather than tilling new terrain, this record seems to be about cultivating existing soil. In that sense it’s something of a lateral move, but hardly a disappointment. Chicago residents and visitors are fortunate that Rolldown is just one of a dozen worthy jazz groups gigging around town. Adasiewicz and his colleagues sit well with the city’s fastest company and still have plenty to say.