Tuned metal percussion figures prominently in the sound universe of Roscoe Mitchell. Many of Mitchell's early compositions for the Art Ensemble of Chicago feature xylophone and tuned bells, and his immersive set-up known as The Cage arranges an array of percussed instruments in a circle around him, including all sorts of metallophones and gongs. On Roscoe Village, Chicago-based improvisor Jason Adasiewicz has transcribed and arranged a selection of Mitchell-penned pieces, performing them all on solo vibraphone. Adasiewicz, who has been one of the most in-demand players on contemporary improvised music stages, with his group Sun Rooms, his quintet Rolldown, the ensemble Living By Lanterns (co-led with drummer Mike Reed), and in duets and quartets with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, is back on the scene after a self-imposed five-year break from music, during which, among other things, he became a carpenter and built his own home studio and practice space, dubbed Hot Juice.
It was in the pressure cooker Hot Juice atmosphere, over the course of three days in June, 2023, that Adasiewicz tackled the ferocious Mitchell songbook, having spent five months in the shed doing little else but mastering and crafting these tricky pieces. Originally commissioned to transcribe a few works as a surprise for Mitchell during the afterparty for an exhibition of paintings at Corbett vs. Dempsey at the beginning of 2023 (held, as it so happened, in the Roscoe Village neighborhood of Chicago), Adasiewicz dug deeply into the archives. He transcribed and arranged several 1960s Art Ensemble cuts ("Old," "Toro," "Congliptious," "A Jackson In Your House," and the perennial "Carefree"), a cut from the '70s ("The Key"), and another from the '80s ("Jo Jar"). From the great LP The Third Decade, he chose a piece scribed by Mitchell's father ("Walking In the Moonlight") and from a recently uncovered Paris-era Art Ensemble composition sketchbook, he arranged a never-heard Mitchell work ("The Cartoon March").
Adasiewicz also worked up a version of one of Mitchell's favorite r&b tunes (Otis Blackwell's "Daddy Rollin' Stone"). His approach to these arrangements was not to carbon copy the original, but to bring something entirely new to them, teasing fresh sounds out of the classic cuts. On certain tracks he slowed the melody down drastically or split a harmonized part into its constituent parts, playing them in sequence rather than at once, on others he added his own composed material to the familiar Mitchell piece. This is the first time many of these historical works have been treated to a new arrangement, and it's also Adasiewicz's first solo record, a fact worth celebrating on its own.
"To me, this is part of another great American songbook," says Adasiewicz. "These tunes are so beautiful and accessible, this huge batch of pieces he wrote are songs that people should know. If you know 'Stardust,' you should know 'Carefree'!" Sporting a 1968 painting by Mitchell on its cover, Roscoe Village is a unique document of two great minds in dialogue, one paying homage to the other by the mightiest means available: a highly attuned form of personal creativity. "He made the music his own," said Mitchell, who'd worked with Adasiewicz in Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra. "Who knew we had such a master in our midst?"