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All That Jazz
By Ivan Weiss
Issue 6
May 13 - June 10, 2004

From understated, low-key Forte to Le Club’s hazy Manhattan hipness, Moscow’s jazz clubs are all unique in their own way. They do have one thing in common, though — great music.

Alexander Antonov
Sinyaya Ptitsa: wailing sax
The dangerous, underground buzz that jazz enjoyed in the Soviet era may have given way to a sedate, pleasantly swanky vibe, and well-dressed yuppies may have replaced the artsy bohemian audience of old — but at Moscow jazz clubs in the early 21st century, the music is still top-notch, drawing on the best traditions of Russian jazz as well as the classic influences of 1920s New York, Kansas City and New Orleans.

More than 10 clubs in Moscow feature jazz regularly, with Le Club, Forte, Cool Train and Sinyaya Ptitsa being the surest bets for consistent, high-quality jazz.

Forte is the most low-key of these clubs. With artful black-and-white photographs of famous musicians and dark brown wood trim flanking the walls, the understated decor resembles something between a sports bar and hunting lodge.

“Our focus is on the music,” said Albert Sergim, Forte’s art director. “It’s for people who really appreciate jazz.”

This is particularly evident on Friday nights, when local jazz guru Alexei Kozlov takes the stage with his group Arsenal. Playing jazz classics interspersed with his own compositions, jazz veteran Kozlov introduces each number with a short explanation of the song’s origins.

Alexander Antonov
Cool Train: Kireyev drumming
Although the heart of the club is jazz rock, which is Kozlov’s specialty, in recent years Forte has added fusion and funk, with a mixture of local talent and musicians from overseas.

In contrast, Le Club — next to the Theater on Taganka — is sleeker, more upscale and more contemporary, with a dark, hazy atmosphere that evokes hip, nighttime Manhattan. Worn wood floors and trendy patches of decaying brick wall are juxtaposed with ornate and colorful painted designs.

The club’s patron saint and art director is legendary Russian saxophonist Igor Butman, whose Big Band group plays every Monday night. Along with this group and other Russian performers, Le Club draws some of the top jazz musicians from around the world, making it a guaranteed option for high-end jazz.

Cool Train, in the B2 club, occupies a large, open space and is constantly astir with people walking to and from other parts of the gargantuan club. This reflects what Cool Train’s art director Oleg Kireyev sees as the club’s “democratic spirit.”

“We have all kinds of jazz here,” he said, “from traditional to jazz rock to ethno-fusion. We treat them all equally.”

Alexander Antonov
Cool Train: view from the piano
Children also work into this mix. On Sundays from 2pm to 6pm, the club hosts a children’s brunch, when patrons are encouraged to introduce their young ones to jazz’s diverse musical forms.

At 40 years old, Sinyaya Ptitsa is the most seasoned club in the city, but a recent renovation has added a new and fresh feel to its illustrious history. Adorned with bright colors and immersed in a soft blue light, the intimate, underground space now has a decidedly contemporary edge.

Like Cool Train, Sinyaya Ptitsa caters to musical diversity. From jazz standards sung by Anna Korolyova to the personal compositions of Igor Bril + 5 to the funky sounds of Sergei Manukyan, the club covers the full range of jazz, packing in nightly performances that won’t disappoint.

Beyond these clubs, Moscow offers a number of different jazz options. The club Kurs has jazz concerts six nights a week. Alabama Jazz, right in the city center, is a new club that’s beginning to draw attention to its nightly jazz performances. Jazz Art Club, located in the unlikely venue of the Bulgarian Cultural Center, provides Soviet-style jazz on Friday nights.

For more experimental, jazz-influenced music, check out Club na Brestskoi, Kitaisky Lyotchik Dzhao Da and Dom, although you should check beforehand what type of music is playing that night; the same goes for recently reopened Marika, which also has jazz nights. Finally, Restavratsiya is an elegant, laid-back place with a top-notch restaurant and jazz on Friday and Saturday nights.

8 Bolshaya Sadovaya Ul. (M. Mayakovskaya)
209-9909, noon-6am

18 Bolshaya Bronnaya Ul. (M. Tverskaya)
202-8833, 2pm-midnight, concerts 9pm-11pm

Le Club
21 Verkhnyaya Radishchevskaya Ul. (in the Taganka Theater building) (M. Taganskaya)
915-1042/53, Sun.-Thu. noon-2am, Fri.-Sat. noon-midnight

Sinyaya Ptitsa
23/15 Ul. Malaya Dmitrovka (M. Pushkinskaya)
299-2225, noon-midnight

Alabama Jazz
7 Stoleshnikov Per., Building 2 (M. Okhotny Ryad)
229-2412, noon-midnight

Cool Train
8 Bolshaya Sadovaya Ul. (M. Mayakovskaya)
209-9909, 6pm-6am

Jazz Art Club
20 Leningradsky Prospekt (inside the Bulgarian Cultural Center) (M. Belorusskaya)
191-8320, Fri. 7:30pm-midnight

8/2 Kursovoi Per. (M. Kropotkinskaya)
Bldg. 2 (entrance from Pozharsky Per.), 290-5750, noon-midnight

Today's Gigs
20:00 - Illusion Reality with DJ Deep Blu' and DJ Me with special guest: deep, atmospheric, electronic dance music with elements of dub and techno
Deti Picasso
Oleg Kireyev's Exotic Band: plus Bass Factory (jazz rock) and Dr. Nick (blues rock)
Bonga Kuenda and his ensemble (Angola/Portugal)
DJ Kovalyov: Sound & Movie project
Diego Modena & Ocarina (Argentina)
Cheburan party: DJ Svodnik
DJ Alison Marks (UK) and DJ OnLee
Agatha Christie
[11 gigs today]


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