Adam Hopkins says Crickets, his debut as a band leader, could have been a rock-trio record. The Baltimore-born bassist spent his high school years playing indie rock that owed a good deal to Pavement, Nirvana and the Dismemberment Plan.
During his senior year, though, he started to uncover a new musical world when he began studying upright bass. Now a resident of Brooklyn, he composed Crickets, the first release on his Out Of Your Head label, with a mind to merge his musical past with a group that includes three saxophones, all blown by experienced free jazz musicians. In his hands, these two styles work together naturally.
ADAM HOPKINS’ CRICKETS. 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28. Alphabet City, 40 W. North Ave., North Side. Free, but reservations are required at www.alphabetcity.org
The bassist had a working knowledge of jazz before college but it was vastly different from what he played in Baltimore’s DIY spaces. “At that time, I didn’t see the [music] as being compatible. It took me a little while to figure out that they could be one and the same,” he says. The revelation came while attending James Madison University. A professor encouraged him to see iconoclast John Zorn’s Masada, an acoustic quartet that combined Ornette Coleman-style jazz with Jewish music, delivering it like a punk band. “Hearing John Zorn for the first time I thought, ‘woah, this isn’t actually that different from the stuff I was listening to in high school,’” Hopkins says. Since moving to Brooklyn in 2011, he has logged many hours as a sideman with players like Ideal Bread, a quartet devoted to the work of saxophonist Steve Lacy, and legendary composer/saxophonist Henry Threadgill.
Many of the tracks on Crickets start with Jonathan Greenberger’s single-note guitar lines, doubled by Hopkins, somewhat in the style of ’90s rock. Baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton teams up with tenors Anna Webber and Ed Rosenberg, working as a whole section and frequently breaking off into solos. When Rosenberg switches to bass sax on “I Thought the Duck Was Fine” the sounds only get wilder.
The album cover features illustrations of the gigantic title insect sneaking up on a vacation house, but Crickets wasn’t written as either a concept album or a suite. In fact the album name preceded the song titles — which also include proclamations like “They Can Swim Backwards But Sometimes Choose Not To.” To illustrate the cover, artist TJ Hull asked Hopkins for vacation pictures from Hopkins’ teens, the time that inspired the writing. “I named all the tunes relating to that period of my life knowing that TJ was doing the art that way. I don’t ever name my songs until I have to,” he says. “I write all the music and then I think about how I can relate this, through song titles, to what I was thinking about when I was writing the music.”