Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Seeing Adam Hopkins, Pittsburgh Banjo Club, talking about town

The last week got away from me. It began with two features for Pittsburgh Current, which is just hitting the street as I type. This coming Saturday, saxophonist James Carter hits town for a tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk. While I'm often skeptical of tribute shows, the subject of this one and Carter, who is really steeped in both the history of music and is dedicated to pushing it forward, is someone who can pull this one off.

I also interviewed Danielle de Picciotto of the duo hackedepicciotto. The other half of that duo is Alexander Hacke, who has been in Einsturzende Neubauten since almost the beginning. There music is both heavy and beautiful.

You can find both of those stories at pittsburghcurrent.com/category/music/ If you're reading this in town, look for a physical copy at your closest coffee shop or watering hole.

Interviewing, transcribing and writing those articles, along recording my spot for WYEP-FM, happened in the early part of the week. Then last Wednesday, bassist Adam Hopkins came to Alphabet City with his sextet which I suppose has been dubbed Crickets, since that's the name of their CD. (For a link to a story on them, check the last post.)

Someone once said that to find out more about jazz musicians from the '50s and '60s, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue offers a great starting point. By investigating that album and then exploring the careers of the six other musicians on that record, a whole goldmine of jazz history will open up before you. I'm not being hyperbolic by saying this, nor do I wish to compare the Crickets group to the Kind of Blue group, but the same could be said about Hopkins and crew in the context of modern music. It consists of musicians who are all leaders themselves doing creative music: saxophonists Anna Webber, Ed Rosenberg and Josh Sinton; guitarist Jonathan Goldberger; and drummer Devin Gray.

The group pretty much played the Crickets album all the way through. Having listened to it a lot, it took on more depth hearing it come to life just a few feet away. The interplay between the tenors of Webber and Rosenberg stood out more, providing tension through occasionally dissonant blends.  Hopkins, since he had a microphone at his disposal, took the opportunity to build a greater rapport with the audience between songs. Since few small groups feature two tenors, he also joked about using the evening to decide which player would stay in the band based on their solos. Of course both killed in very different ways, Webber during the more aggressive "Mudball" and Rosenberg on "Haven of Bliss," which is exactly how the latter felt, topped off with some fiery tenor wails. Sinton was amazing on both baritone sax and bass clarinet.

Goldenberger seemed right at home with the indie rock foundation of the songs, drawing on a bank of pedals and a small violin bow to add extra clarity to his playing. Gray held things together until the closing "Scissorhands" when he really cut loose, as the horns slowly built up the melody of the song. Hopkins, hidden behind the tall drinks of water in the horn section, worked as the anchor to all of this. Another 75 minutes would have been cool too but for a weeknight show starting at 7 p.m., Crickets gave us plenty.

In an interesting observation, Hopkins told the audience that it would take them a year to find an audience of the size we had here. It sounds crazy because, while it wasn't a dead night at Alphabet City (which charges no cover and only requires advance reservations), it was nowhere near as crowded as it often gets during their Jazz Poetry series in September. As a city resident who has been involved in several pockets of the music scene, it made me wonder that maybe we have it better here than we think.

Or at least, we have a good spot for touring groups that play freer, less traditional versions of jazz. I overheard talk from a few people afterwards about how hard it is to maintain an audience in New York anymore because no one goes out, including musicians who used to be seen regularly at their peers' shows, hanging out, swapping stories and making connections. Here they were in Pittsburgh, doing just that with - get this - a bunch of musicians that moved HERE from New York! Granted they didn't move here because of the greener musical pastures but they certainly had a fresher look of our scene than some others do.

And where do out-of-town jazz folks go after blowing out minds with their music? To the Allegheny Elks Lodge, where the Pittsburgh Banjo Club has their weekly gig! By the time we arrived there, the Club was getting ready for their second set and the shuttle of senior citizens had departed with their patrons. (I'm not making that up. I saw it driving away I parked.) Still it was a good time, even if the banjos were a little under-miked. Incidentally, the Lodge is cash only.

I went home still needing to write an album review for Pittsburgh Current, but  also having an early workday the next morning. That, combined with a PC-sponsored happy hour on Thursday at the dive bar located about 50 feet from my house, ensured that the review didn't get written until Friday morning. Which brings us up to now.

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