Along with Adasiewicz and Berman, Rolldown includes saxophone player Aram Shelton, bassist Jason Roebke, and drummer Frank Rosaly, each of whom has a remarkable number of his own projects. It’s an all-star crew of young jazz improvisers who are securing their places as the next great figures in Chicago music. “We’re all around the same age,” Adasiewicz says. “Those guys moved to Chicago when I started playing, and we all found each other because we convened at the same time. These are the guys I grew up with, musically.”
Varmint, the second release from Adasiewicz’s Rolldown, is a beautifully composed work, evoking the purity and placidity of cool jazz, as well as the adventurous spirit of records like Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch!, on which vibe player Bobby Hutcherson drizzled melodic punches and demonstrated the instrument’s strength for adding color and conveying intensity. Though the band is full of talented improvisers, Adasiewicz is focused on providing a solid, well-written foundation of music that sticks with listeners.
“The tunes can stand alone,” he says. “They don’t need improvisation. There’s improv, some with direction, some without, but the emphasis is always on the tune itself.” He took particular inspiration from pianist Andrew Hill, whose song “The Griots” is the only non-original piece featured on Varmint. “That’s a song that can stand alone,” he gushes. “The melody is so beautiful. That’s all you need to hear, those beautiful changes.”
The clarity of Rolldown’s music is important to Adasiewicz, who has made an effort to keep the band’s sound consistent and comprehensible for listeners. Varmint was recorded at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studios with engineer Mark Haines, in the same room as the band’s first release. “We recorded in the ‘B’ room; if you’re a purist, that’s the place to be in Chicago — maybe even the country,” he says. “That room is something special. It’s inspirational, and to me, the sound of that room is the sound of the group.”
It’s clear from the get-go of Varmint that the members of Rolldown are comfortable with one another and share a musical vision. From the shimmering vibe runs of “Green Grass” to the loungey, horn-driven languor of “Dagger,” Varmint is a pleasing, consonant experience that feels immediate and proximate.
The band’s sound on record, so meticulously designed, makes it feel as if the listener is with them in the studio or seeing them perform at the Green Mill or the Hungry Brain. Adasiewicz has chosen his company well, and it’s clear why the roster of Rolldown is considered to be such a potent force in all of the various groups with which they perform.
The release of Varmint hasn’t distracted Adasiewicz from his responsibilities as a musician. “People don’t have a ton of time,” he says, “especially when you’re involved in 20 projects.” He’s got too much on his plate to sit back and enjoy his new record. He’s already writing new material for the trio Spacer, which he shares with Mike Reid and Nate McBridge; planning for a show with the Exploding Star Orchestra and Bill Dixon; and getting used to being a father to his newborn daughter, Isabella Rose.