(NB - I just got around to figuring out how to put up some pics in some of the New York entries - thanks again Sherd...)
Wednesday 20th September
'Lost in the Barrio, I walk like an Injun...'
'Throw Back The Little Ones' - Steely Dan
The haze cleared entirely the next day, and I Metroed to Lexington Avenue and somewhere in the 90s, east of Central Park, for a good long wander through Spanish Harlem (referred to here amongst Latinos as 'El Barrio'). The electricity of the place was incredible; hard to describe (it wasn't like people with trumpets hanging out of windows), but just watching people go about their business, hearing people talk, seeing Cuban flags up everywhere, you could definitely feel it.
Reaching a major intersection on Lexington Avenue, I spied with my little audiophile's eye a record store. Amazing! Floor to ceiling, glass cabinets, full of every single kind of Latino music you want. Of course, having discovered Internet CD purchasing not too long ago, I know that I didn't need to buy anything from there as it's all way too e-accessible, but it's the romance of it, the seeing the cover art right there in front of you, the exchange of a couple of words with the knowledgeable guy behind the counter, the breaking of those annoying plastic covers, the suddenly urgent need to find the nearest CD player...
Venturing further up Lexington, trying not to look at my guidebook too much (I figure I must've been advertising to locals that I was some kind of tourist), after about fifteen or twenty blocks I hit the intersection with Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, turned left and headed into Harlem proper.
Harlem looks like it's doing pretty well for itself these days - any stereotyped images of rundown urban decay were quickly dashed by the immediately obvious encroachment of gentrification. Still, it was hardly peace and quiet - as I went to cross the street a young man and woman started up about something, wailing in each other's faces to disapproving looks. Yelling at them to stop came from a large woman on the pavement nearby, seated at a wooden table with a sack of what must have been chess pieces and a pile of boards (something I saw a bit of as I continued on). Must have been bad for business...
Reaching the intersection with Malcolm X Boulevard, the major crossroads of the suburb, I decided to leak back off the main drag and see a bit of the neighbourhood. Like the constancy of the horns and sirens, the dominating sound of these sidestreets was that of construction: circular saws, dump trucks et al. A quick stroll through Marcus Garvey Park and I was back on Lexington, heading south in search of a quick Latino feed that never eventuated.
Continuing with the theme of the day, the first stop of the evening's festivities was a venue but not live music - John Zorn's The Stone at the bottom of Avenue C, for a Latino film night. Getting there a little early, I decided to wander one block east to get a peek at Avenue D, the edge of Alphabet City and indeed the streets of the island, sometime home of saxophonists Charlie Parker and Dale Barlow (Steely Dan also give it a mention).
So I take my seat at The Stone, aptly named (prominent absence of bar and accompanying furniture), and the film collector running the night announces that we have about half a dozen local Salsa legends in our midst, notably Jimmy Bosch (who I later saw on Friday night). The movies were wicked, starting from early 20s footage of a Cuban son band (bright whites and cane hats) all the way through to a mindblowing 50s era descarga, live on TV.
After a while it turned into a bit of a local reminiscence fest with the old Salsa guys, so I bailed and headed to the opposite corner of the island to scout out some of the clubs I'd heard of on the Upper West Side. I found Smoke in the hundreds somewhere - stonking organ trio sitting on a turnaround for about ten minutes, but the place was packed to the rafters and a drinks minimum that was a bit too maximum for me. Half a dozen blocks further south was Cleopatras Needle, again quite full - these places were more schmick restaurants with music than clubs to hang at, which wasn't really my vibe at the time (do enough gigs myself in that world), so I ended up walking for about another ten blocks to the nearest Metro - not much to see up there that time of night.
Headed back to the Village and Smalls - didn't care who was on cause I knew it was going to be huge and it was, a quintet run by the bassplayer. Here for the first time, in that tiny basement, I got to feel and see and hear the intensity that I'd only heard about from my fellow muso friends back in Oz. Everyone was so into it, so into doing a great job, so into creating amazing music right there on the bandstand. No slackers, no half-ass playing, no band member too drunk or stoned (from what I could tell)....everyone's soloing and comping were massive, everyone's tone was huge...the live sound again was amazing - no feedback, no level issues. This was the real thing, a New York Jazz club where new music was being performed and created, and, thanks to it being reasonably affordable, a place to hang and meet guys and get into musical adventures....