Thursday, September 01, 2005

let's go out to the ball game

The last paragraph of Alex Ross's Mostly Mozart review sounded like an inverted echo of something I exclaimed at Middelheim: conditions at jazz concerts are often - way too often - terrible.

"Change the perspective and the music changes, too," says Ross of a Row A experience. I couldn't agree more. It's the basic reason we still go to concerts, in the age of recording: to be up close, to see the sweat on the brow, to hear un- or less-mediated sound. It's firmly embedded in the conciousness of the jazz fan that live music is the real thing and that recordings are that'll-have-to-do ersatzes. And yet, time and time again the concert experience fails to live up to the ideal.

Clubs are too smokey, too loud, too disinterested (see Bill Zavatsky's screed against the audience assembled at the Village Vanguard to, purportedly, listen to Bill Evans in vol. 13 issue #3 of Dave Liebman's newsletter), too loud (the I'm-deaf-so-I'll-make-you-deaf-too soundman syndrome), too lax time-wise.

Halls are too cold, too big, too stuffy, too expensive.

Festivals are too big, too overstuffed, too boring, the acoustics too poor, too under-staffed, too expensive, too far, too frequent, too overlapping.

And, in passing, as I had imagined, the music on swod's CD, Gehen, is definitely better enjoyed in the living room than in the park.

That said, places to go:

The Sounds: best club experience in Brussels, probably.
CC Luchtbal: a hall that, in addition to hosting a bizarre mix of punk, metal and adventurous free jazz, is priced more than reasonably (thank you, government subsidies!) and manages to be roomy while retaining some intimacy.
Hnita-Hoeve: halfway between a hall and a club, the rigid movie theater-style seating makes it a bit cramped, but the most familial atmosphere anywhere.
K.fée: great decor, don't get stuck in the bar area if you came for the music, though.
De Werf: small, but thanks to the steep amphitheater-style seating, there are a lot of seats, all having a good view. The sound is generally good and you can buy De Werf CDs in the lobby. I'd go there a lot more often if it wasn't so far away.
Flagey Studio 1: holds about 200 and has gained in warmth over the years. Sit in the very front row and put your ear in the bell of the horn.

Places to think twice about:
PP Café: great programming, questionable comfort, dubious crowd.
Studio Athanor: those already deaf have nothing to fear, otherwise very enjoyable.
Music Village: most expensive club, poor lines of sight, often dead crowd. The paid membership thing.
Flagey Studio 4: holds millions and has gained nothing over the years. The balcony seats aren't worth it (and are must-avoids if you're scared of heights) and the floor seats are anonymous. The side-stage seats can be fun, though.
De Hopper: the free nights are often very noisy, the performance space is cramped, the acoustics surprisingly variable for such a small room. Still, it's De Hopper.