Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Le Caveau des Oubliettes

With only a week to enjoy the infinite possibiliites of Paris, a choice had to be made as regards a night out in the jazz vein. Amongst the choices, Le Caveau des Oubliettes came out on top. Caveau de la Huchette, Franc Pinot Jazz Club, and Le Baiser Salé Jazz Club were other possibilities, but Le Caveau des Oubliettes (Cave of the Forgotten Ones) was too tempting with its unearthly title and history. What started as a gang of five afficionados going to the Wednesday "Latin Swing Jam" night ended up as a solo visit by yours truly. Oubliettes is located in the 5th arrondissement, across the Seine from Notre Dame and two Metro lines away from my rented apartment in the 11th arrondissement, a short ride there but a guaranteed longer walk back home if I missed the last Metro at 12:30 a.m. The club is located in a touristy part of the city, but once 10:00 has struck, the tourists tend to depart and the area is occupied by locals.

Stepping through the door of the premises, I did a quick stop. A huge flat screen was the center of the patrons' attnetion. It was the night of the (soon-to-be) infamous France-Ireland World Cup qualifying match. Aside from Thierry Henry's "Hand of Gaul" goal, there did not seem to be any hands of Jazz on hand. I proceeded to the back of the bar, where one man out of many stood out as he was the only one not paying attention to the game. It seemed to be safest to pose the "Ou'est le Jazz?" to him; I feared bodily harm and suspicious glances if I asked such an inquiry to anyone else. A perfunctory up-and-down scan was followed by a slight nod to the right. Turning away from the packed bar upstairs, I descended some steep stone stairs to what appeared to my still adjusting eyes as a basement, a cellar recently used to store coal or other soot-emitting material. Lighting was minimal, stone was maximal, drink prices were astronomical. With no cover charge, 8 Euros ($14) for a beer encouraged a drink-nursing behaviour. But, one wasn't paying for the beverage; it was the atmosphere that required the high bottle rent. The jazz club was divided into two slim but long sections. One was for sitting, drinking and talking. The other was for sitting, drinking, and listening. The musician's gear was stacked at one end of the 100 ft long space, while tables and chairs were laid out in the balance of the room. I arrived 15 minutes early for the 10:00 o'clock show, which probably would have started fairly close to that time, save for the football hysterics happening upstairs.

The band, nameless as far as I can tell, was young and was part of the World Cup intensity. So, the first set began close to 11:00, only 1 hour and a half before the Metros closed down for the night. Composed of an electric piano player of good form, a 6-string bass player and spokesperson, and the tallest drummer (must've been 6"8', easily) I'd ever seen, the band was energetic and more than willing to play the 10-15 minute songs, eschewing brevity for langorous intensity. The drummer was especially action-packed, figuring that speed and strong strikes of his sticks would hide his lack of subtlety. The crowd was between 18-30, with one or two of us oldtimers sprinkled in, so youth ruled both from the band's repertoire and the
audience's desire for the same. The Oubliettes' acoustics were phenomenal; clarity and power without reverberation. Highly recommended with the additional note that it would be a good idea to have a rental car for the night, so that you, unlike yours truly, could stay for the second set.

Oh, and the $14 beer? Yep, I was able to nurse it through 2 hours of absorbing, sitting, and listening.

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