Essential New Music: Jason Adasiewicz’s “Roscoe Village: The Music Of Roscoe Mitchell”

Roscoe Village is a comfortable neighborhood on Chicago’s north side where you can drop a few bucks on brunch. It’s also highly like that vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz has had an omelet there at time or another. But the locale that this album explores is a more expansive and spiritually nourishing zone. It contains interpretations of tunes composed by Roscoe Mitchell, the multi-instrumentalist, conceptualist, composer, improviser and painter who was a charter member of the Association For The Advancement Of Creative Musicians and is the sole surviving founding member of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago.

Mitchell’s music transcends time, space and style; it can be lyrical or abstract, droll or drily scrutinizing, spontaneous or rigorously worked or reworked. He started making it in the 1960s, and he’s still at it now. Earlier this year, Adasiewicz learned a few vintage Mitchell tunes to play for their composer as part of a party thrown after the opening of Mitchell exhibit Keeper Of The Code: Paintings 1963–2022. Mitchell, who no longer plays his old music, gave the performance a standing ovation; after such an endorsement, Adasiewicz had no choice but to keep going. None of Mitchell’s compositions has ever been arranged for solo vibraphone before, so there was plenty of room for Adasiewicz to rethink them. He concentrated on pieces that Mitchell wrote in the 1960s, which he slowed down and partially disassembled, all the better to appreciate selected details.

As initially played by the Art Ensemble, these tunes bristled with ungentle humor. Adasiewicz’s take on “Old” swaps the original’s sardonic representation of antiquity for uncluttered, lucid exploration of its rhythmic implications. In its initial form, “The Waltz” was a fragmented, comedic turn so wobbly that you’d pull it over and give it a breathalyzer test if you saw it on the road. Adasiewicz has turned it into a sober fanfare, with flourishes that are perfectly timed to unleash waves of reverberant sound. On “A Jackson In The House,” his bowing floats elongated pulses over a treatment of the melody so stretched out, it’s barely recognizable. You suspect that it’s Adasiewicz’s knack for creative transformation, which is on display throughout Roscoe Village, that got Mitchell up on his feet that night. [Corbett Vs. Dempsey]

—Bill Meyer