A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Lauren Desberg, Design by Dan Chmielinski

Photo by Lauren Desberg, Design by Dan Chmielinski

Pianist Adam Kromelow is one-third of the band KROM, alongside Raviv Markovitz on bass and Jason Burger on drums. Kromelow, a 2011 graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, began playing with Markovitz and Burger while they were all in school: the latter was also at MSM and the former at Columbia, just a few blocks down the street. KROM’s latest release is their self-titled début, KROM, which was released on March 11th; prior to this, the band known as the Adam Kromelow Trio had released their début trio recording Youngblood (ZOHO). We caught up with Adam by phone to talk about the evolution of this band and the way that he’s compositionally negotiated progressive rock and other musical influences.

The Jazz Gallery: With the release of KROM, the band formerly known as the Adam Kromelow Trio will now be known as KROM. Why change the name? 

Adam Kromelow:  Whenever we improvise, a lot of times it’s collective improvisation, so we just wanted to feel like it’s a real band and a real unit. We sometimes do subs [call substitutes] when we have to, but it’s not a typical jazz thing where I call tunes and I call different people. I love that, but I wanted to see an actual band that spends time rehearsing—even when there’s no gig, where the compositions are way more involved.

TJG: You all met while you were in school? 

AK: When we were in school, we started just by playing standards together and I started writing. When I started doing the Genesis project with Angelo [Di Loreto], I wanted to write music that was more sounding like that—like progressive rock—and I wanted to see if I could have this trio play music that had this vibe. We were still called the Adam Kromelow Trio, but I was experimenting as a composer with those sounds and those through-composed forms, so it was a hybrid of our jazz roots and this British prog stuff. In the past three years, it’s grown into what it is now. I’m really starting to figure out how to write for this group and how to write specifically for this group—not just for the instrumentation, but for Jason and Raviv—and to arrange very specifically for piano, bass, and drums to have it sound full and orchestrated like a rock band.

TJG: Regarding this band, what’s worked well for you compositionally? What hasn’t?

AK: One thing I discovered—and this was partly from talking with Vijay Iyer in my lessons with him—was about rhythmic counterpoint: writing specific drum and bass parts and, of course, thinking of the piano as two separate hands; getting all four of them to interact rather than just doubling or just saying, “play a straight 8th beat”; and having each component rhythmically bounce off each other and have a unique, strong character, rather than, “This is a ballad; this is a fast song.” You can have 50 straight 8th songs but each is individually discernible, which has to do with how the grooves have been constructed. Like how a producer or a DJ will spend time to make a beat, it’s doing that, but to be played live by these three acoustic instruments.

That’s worked really well. The thing I struggle with most is getting melody and harmony together where I sometimes wish I had a string section or a synth pad. I want to write true individual lines with the right and left hands, but since there’s no guitar, there’s no way to get chords. So, how do I get the chords to sound when I want to play a melody in the right and left hand? I figured out a way where I play half chord and half melody, say a low triad in the left hand, but a melody in the right hand where it sounds like three voices instead of just two—little pianistic tricks to get over that obstacle.

TJG: Could you say more about these “little pianistic tricks?” 

AK: I want two voices, but also wish there was harmony there played by a pad, like by a string quartet, so I’ve come up with some pianistic solutions where in the left hand I’ll play a voicing like 1-5-6 or 3-5-7, but in a lower range so it feels kind of bulky. That frees up some other fingers to play counterpoint and in the right hand there can be melodies, but in block chords, so harmony is still there. It’s not just left hand comping, right hand melody—it’s a thicker texture on the piano where harmony sounds clear, but not from a chord and instead from hearing everything all together, the way the notes are orchestrated on the piano.

TJG: Earlier you mentioned something about composing for the band being like a DJ or a producer. What’s the relationship, in your eyes, between modern electronic musicians and “acoustic” musicians?

AK: The biggest thing is that you can do both now: you can do electronic sounds and improvise, like DJ Logic. I think that’s really cool. There’s a kind of purity and accessibility to these electronic sounds that resonate well with listeners. When you hear synthesized sound, it’s generally pleasing to the ear; maybe because it’s such a big part of our lives nowadays, whenever you hear an electronic sound, it generally sounds cool or fresh and it’s something an instrument can’t do, but it’s something accessible. I think our goal as a trio is to integrate these sounds acoustically. There are moments where I’d like to sound like a rock band with distortion and low notes with crunch. I like trying to do that live without bringing in a Nord or a DJ, but on the album we do use effects and put things on top; I’m not afraid to do that on the album, but I don’t do that live because it’s fun to recreate those sounds acoustically.

TJG: Progressive rock clearly influences the music of this group; how does jazz factor into the equation?

AK: The fun thing is that we three are total jazz musicians. Outside of this project, we do what’s more easily defined as jazz in this world. I still definitely consider myself in the jazz world: it’s a piano trio, we’re improvising together, and we’re coming at it from a lens of all the great live rhythm sections that we all look up to. Ahmad Jamal’s trio had very tightly arranged music, and ours doesn’t sound anything like theirs, but it’s a similar mindset: we have pre-planned things in the compositions that we play together.

Aesthetically, I’m drawing as a composer less from jazz and more from the rock world, but as players, we’re thinking more like jazz players than rock players. I guess rock players think this way too, but we’re listening super hard and interacting with each other and letting things get loose—I guess the best rock bands do that, too. Our biggest influences as players are thinking about the great trios, the great rhythm sections from that history. I know that Raviv loves Ron Carter and Paul Chambers, and I love Red Garland, so we’re thinking about those guys and as a trio we’re trying to be absolutely tight and together.

We’re trying to shape songs and think carefully about dynamics: when things pick up speed and slow down, and where the energetic and relaxed moments are. I think that the best jazz trios were all about that, whereas a lot of rock songs now will be played at the same volume level and it’s more about dancing and the party. For us, we’re trying to fluidly and organically shape a song and tell a concise, well-defined story, and that’s why we think like jazz musicians.

TJG: How does this new record compare to the previous, Youngblood?

AK: Youngblood was very eclectic with more prog rock compositions and more of what are considered jazz tunes—we even did a free improvisation on Youngblood on Monk’s “Brilliant Corners.” KROM is more along the lines of the progressive rock-type of composition. There aren’t any swing songs on KROM and there’s a lot more through-composed stuff and a lot more of the rhythmic counterpoint and care in the compositions. What we catch on Youngblood is the collective improvisational feel; it’s within the parameters of the group of that song, so you wouldn’t necessarily know it’s collective improv. It might sound more composed or like a piano solo, but on the page, after the written stuff, it’ll say “improvise together.” There are moments of free blowing at the end [of KROM], but it’s more in the progressive rock mindset than the first one.

TJG: To what extent do you think of your music as danceable?

AK: If you were at a concert of our music, it’d be more sit down and listen, although we try to have some fun. *laughs* We did a show once and a huge group of German tourists came in and were bumping to the music like they were in the club. The song was actually in 7, but it didn’t even matter because the beat was so strong.

TJG: What have you been listening to lately?

AK: Lately, the rock bands I’ve been into have been Deerhoof and the Dirty Projectors. I also have really started listening to Neil Young songs; I fell in love with “Philadelphia,” which he wrote for the movie Philadelphia with Tom Hanks, and I’ve been watching some videos of him doing it live. There’s one where he actually played it at the Oscars and I’ve been looking at it a lot. It’s my favorite song right now, and I’ve been playing it a little bit right now. I like the fact that’s it not a verse-chorus type of song—it’s just a form that cycles—and he takes it back and forth between a couple keys. One part is in the high part of his range and another is in the low range, but it’s different because of where it sits because of his voice.

I think that’s super cool: like, what exact register will it be phrased in, and why? In the moment, you might pick any octave because of where your hand is, but in a lot of these KROM songs maybe the first two times I’ll play it in one place and another I’ll put it somewhere different. I like how Neil Young was thinking that way because I kind of skipped over him, but people were telling me I gotta dig into his compositions.

For jazz, I’ve actually been more into the old school stuff: Earl Garner and pre-bebop pianists like Duke Ellington. And then some classical music, too: some opera stuff I’ve been into like Berg’s Wozzeck, which is a really good one, and Angelo Di Loreto turned me on to some of Daniel Barber’s Essays for Orchestra, which I’ve really enjoyed. I need to branch out genre-wise because I always feel like I’m in those three, but there’s a lot in there.

KROM performs at The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, April 10th, 2014. KROM features Adam Kromelow on piano, Raviv Markovitz on bass, and Jason Burger on drums. Sets are at 9 and 11 p.m. $15 general admission ($10 for members) for the first set, $10 general admission ($5 for members) for the second. Purchase tickets here.