Two weeks ago, at Douglass Street Music Collective in Gowanus, a group of young iconoclasts milled quietly about, drinking beer as the musician Josh Sinton sat on a handmade stage before them, producing whooshy, long tones on a contrabass clarinet. That same night, at Ibeam—a boxy, high-ceilinged space nearby—vocalist Fay Victor sang a winning selection of Herbie Nichols compositions to a crowd of 10 rapt listeners.
The music, in both cases, was weird and good and intriguing—a random sampling of Brooklyn's wide-open jazz and improvised music scene. Over the past five years or so, a constellation of musician-run jazz series and performance spaces has cropped up throughout Kings County, in far-flung neighborhoods like Ditmas Park, Gowanus, Prospect Heights, and South Slope. You'll see stuff in these spaces that you aren't likely to find across the East River, in Manhattan clubs like the Village Vanguard and the Blue Note.
"It's not that Manhattan is boring, " the pianist James Carney explains via e-mail. "It's simply become so expensive that venues there tend to program less adventurous jazz and improvised music these days." (One notable exception is the Stone, John Zorn's East Village music lab.)
For that reason, among others, a tight-knit group of motivated Brooklyn jazz musicians have created their own artistic infrastructure, borne of frustration and necessity, DIY to the bone. It's a world in which gigs—always hard to come by—can be secured months in advance, where nascent ideas can be tested out and worked on and made better.
Carney runs the weekly Konceptions Music Series at Korzo in Park Slope, where, about a year and a half ago, you could have seen the brilliant alto saxophonist Tim Berne for a suggested donation of $10. Carney is one of a steadily growing number of musicians presenting improvised music in Brooklyn cafés and restaurants. There's Oscar Noriega's Palimpsestic Series at Barbès; the Intuit Concert Series at LARK Café on Church Avenue; Out of Your Head Brooklyn, which does first-time collaborations in the back room of Freddy's Bar on Fifth Avenue.