20 September 2012

The best venue?

Dirk mentioned it and the travel guides say it’s perhaps the best jazz performance venue in Europe. The Bimhuis is a black box hanging off the side of a concrete and glass performance hall called the Muziekgebouw . The building is impressive: tall and bare concrete walls, overhanging tiers and a glowing, overhanging glass rook, massive heavy timber stairways that run for multiple floors and ridicule a few tiny lifts (there must be others). The Conservatorium is here, too. Inside Bimhaus, it’s red seating in theatre configuration in the half-round in front of a few rows of tables and loose chairs and the gods, a huge timber stage with a mighty grand piano, impressive mix and lighting desks and a fold-back mix-desk that spoke of impeccable sound although no speakers were obvious, lighting hanging above, mostly a black box with the red seats and the timber of stage and some balustrades and an immense window backdrop to the stage with its starry, starry night-lights and long comets of passing trains. It’s a vision that mimics (or is mimicked by) various NYC venues including the Lincoln Centre and Letterman.

I caught a free workshop session which I expected to be an interesting entrée to the local music scene. Several groups of musicians came to stage to play one, maybe two, tunes. A advisor was there to discuss and advise in Dutch and (thankfully for me) some short snippets in English. He sat in on bass, occasionally. As I read it, Jasper Blom of the Conservatorium von Amsterdam organised these sessions, but I think his bassist, Reinier Bas, was officiating this night. I caught four bands. There were some standards here (but few) and I was impressed by a search beyond swing. This was not just lively individualist playing. It seems more intricate and communal to me. One band seemed young and new to this. Another was a pairing of soprano sax and guitar and playing a traddie number but with a modern take. The conversation here was on styles and matching between players. There was a pairing of flute and piano that impressed more as improvised classical sounding like Schoenberg. All discordant tones and repeated and mutated melodic snippets. They were good and the discussion was minimal for this pair. There was an older couple: she singing Round midnight (and was it a temporary segue into Summertime?) and vocally improvising on melody and words and he playing sparse, dissonant, single notes then later chords on piano. They, too, were interesting and creatively impressive. Overall, I was more taken by the creative energy than the musicianship. This was a statement of creative intent more than musical application, although there were some decent skills here, too.

Amsterdam is noted for its vibrant musical life including jazz. I could believe it. Walking to our apartment, I heard trumpet then later harp being practiced. Perhaps it’s just here in the old town where you’re more likely to be skittled by a ghostly bike with no lights as you negotiate bike lanes and streets and train tracks. But away from the canals, the lanes are more like passages and strangely quiet amongst the narrow, leaning frontages. It’s built like Venice, on piles in a swamp, but the feel is different, more youthful and lively. I’ve seen numerous instruments in cases and a running pair of young blokes, one with a guitar bag on his back, the other with a double bass bag. It’s not the quality of the playing that I envy (although I expect I will after the demise of the conservatorium model at our School of Music) but the bustling artistic and street life. It’s just one night and it’s warm and I’m in the middle of the old town, so is likely I’m seeing the height of this life, but then it’s just Tuesday.

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