Local Jazz Whiz Delivers (solo) Tribute to Thelonious
With bandmates stranded in NYC, Adam Kromelow dazzles in solo recital.
It took more than an East Coast winter storm to stop Adam Kromelow's year-end jazz tribute to Thelonious Monk. While three members of the jazz group, Collective Language, were mired in New York's mess, Wilmette native and jazz pianist, Kromelow, played a special solo recital at the Wilmette Public Library, on Thursday.
"Just be glad it wasn't the bassist or something [who made it]" Kromelow joked from the stage of the library's auditorium.
Collective Language, which also includes percussionist Gregg Bendian, bassist Peter Brendler and Chicago native, Jon Irabagon on saxophone, had been planning a full concert celebrating the work of Monk, a jazz icon. Once it became apparent that the band would be stuck in New York City, Kromelow jumped at the chance to perform a solo recital.
With virtually no time to rehearse a solo set, Kromelow powered through 90 minutes of jazz standards and rock tunes with dexterity to spare. From the syrupy sweet sentimentality of Duke Ellington's "Reflections in D" to Monk standards like "Straight, No Chaser" and "'Round Midnight," this award-winning pianist showcased a preternatural ability to interpret a melody.
This Manhattan School of Music student's mentor, Jason Moran, stressed the importance of preparing for impromptu solo recitals—a daunting task for any ensemble player—and the student has replied with panache. Never appearing flustered throughout the length of the program, Kromelow took time between songs to speak with the audience and answer a few questions.
When asked about bringing Thelonious Monk songs into his repertoire, Kromelow's ardor for the composer could hardly be contained.
"He was very special. He was one of the pianists who thought like a singer…[giving priority] to melody rather than harmony. When I play Monk tunes, I will base any improvisations on the melody whereas with other composers, such as Bill Evans, for example, I would improvise more on the chords or harmony than the melody," he said.
While one of Kromelow's favorite rock groups is Genesis, he decided against performing any of their songs, in part because "[those tunes] are long and very strenuous on the hands." Instead, the pianist played two Beatles tunes: Paul McCartney's "The Fool on the Hill" and John Lennon's "Across the Universe," which received very enthusiastic acclaim from the crowded auditorium.
The pianist's rendering of "Across the Universe," was especially poignant and à propos as the 30th anniversary of Lennon's untimely death was just last month. Kromelow's improvisations expanded greatly upon the simple lullaby of a song, building to a rich crescendo in the chorus. As Kromelow's dynamic mastery alternated between pleading and shouting, one could almost hear Lennon hurling those powerful words, "nothing's gonna change my world," from beyond the grave.