Monday, February 23, 2009

Jazz Underground

This week I went to a small Jazz club by St. Michele Metro Station called Caveau de la Huchette, and as the name of the venue would suggest, the music was played underground in an old cellar. JW made the plans to go to this particular jazz club, so I actually didn’t know that the music would be played in a basement. Thus it was quite a pleasant surprise when we were directed from the bar down the customarily steep and winding stairs into the cellar. When we reached the bottom I found myself looking at a basement where the low-hanging stone arches and the musty smell reminded me of a cathedral’s crypt (of which I have seen my fair-share so far in Europe). This time, however, instead of feeling obligated to appreciate some variety of historical site I was thrilled to be taking in some jazz in such a different setting.

As I looked around the cellar more, I could imagine anything from a group of monks in prayer to an aristocrat’s wine collection filling the space. Additionally, the space had a very three-dimensional feel because of the number of different levels of flooring in the room. I counted six small sets of stairs throughout the entire basement that led to little nooks and throughout the larger room it had a number of small tables and chairs. It allowed for each separate group to have a very intimate feeling with their own group, but my only complaint was that there was a somewhat large open area with no tables directly in front of the stage. I felt that that took away from the intimacy of the basement, and that the audience could have sat much closer to the band. However, once the first fearless couple pranced onto the dance floor, the space appeared to shrink in size and I felt like I was closer to the band.

Not only did the cave-like feel of the basement venue add to the ambience, but I also really liked how the music sounded. It seemed to cascade into your ears from all directions, and the saxophone, in particular, sounded more robust than I think it otherwise would have. I thought about the IRCAM concert hall, where they can rotate panels in the walls in order to achieve a certain acoustic effect, and I wondered if it would be able to simulate the intimate feel of the basement. My romantic side wanted to say no, that technology couldn’t come close to replicating the feeling, but the more technically oriented side of my brain was already ruminating on how it could be possible.

Luckily, before I got too caught-up with theories of acoustics, of which I am acquainted with to a trivial extent, I realized that my head had been slowly rocking to the music while I had been thinking. So, if you’ve been wondering up to this point about the music I will start by saying this: it was “head-bob worthy”. Like I said, I found myself doing an absent-minded, slow head-bob. You might think “head-bob worthy” sounds like a non-committal, clumsy, or overly creative way of saying “good”. I am, however, going to stand by my use of “head-bob worthy” because I feel that it appropriately conveys what I thought about the music. I thought the music was tepid, inexpressive, and mild, although each performer had the chance to play a solo or two, they all lacked a feeling of connection with the music or an effort to express emotion. The music was good, the musicians were professionals, but in an effort to make the music dance-friendly and audience friendly I think it came out flat. Of course, the musicians might feel obligated to put on a show that would appeal to the widest audience possible, but I suppose I had been looking for more. Thus, as someone who cannot dance well, I found the music to be worthy of a good head-rock, but not rich enough to keep me from pondering the acoustic properties of the basement's low stone ceiling.

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