Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band at Zipper Hall November 12, 2010
The first was in 2005 with Billy Childs’ Jazz Chamber Ensemble. At that time, The Bakery had stood at its 3233 Helms Ave location in Culver City for over eleven years since moving from a small photography studio in the same complex after a serendipitous two-year run. I was still relatively new to town, but the warm, open, wood-vaulted listening room with those green plastic lawn chairs (“…the best you could buy,” reminds founder Ruth Price) was already my clear favorite venue for serious jazz. It was a concert venue without the fuss; an intimate club feel without all the clinks and chatter.
Many Bakery shows later, I again caught Blade with the Scott Colley Quartet on the final weekend of the Jazz Bakery on Helms Ave, May 30, 2009. The lawn chairs had only recently been replaced with seating more befitting the nearly 16-year-old and by-then legendary space as it faced an abrupt yet graceful end.
Blade’s performance Friday with The Fellowship Band was part of The Jazz Bakery’s Moveable Feast concert series Price began organizing shortly following the demise of its permanent home. Although technically not housed in the namesake venue, where Ruth Price goes so goes The Jazz Bakery—defined by her commitment to showcasing world-class live jazz in dedicated concert settings and her tireless creative spirit. For this night, The Jazz Bakery was Zipper Hall at the wide-ranging Colburn School of performing arts in downtown Los Angeles.
Inside The Zipper
While Price and her non-profit board of directors continue to sort out the details of a new and fixed home, the Moveable Feast concept has offered some of the same top-quality events we’ve come to expect from The Jazz Bakery at some of the most extraordinary concert venues in town, including Redcat at Disney Hall, The Grammy Museum Sound Stage, Japan America Theatre, and Largo at The Coronet. Price and many of the Bakery’s loyal supporters see the musical chairs, indeed, as a sort of game. A treasure hunt. An adventure. The change of necessity, as is often the case, has become a virtue all its own.
The Fellowship Band at Zipper Hall was exemplary. The superb venue and the simple novelty of it elevated the evening’s experience. Personally, while I’ve passed the impressive facade—located adjacent to Disney Hall—often over time, it was a new and exciting discovery. The 435-seat theater with 60-foot ceiling and delicate wooden arched trellis; and glowing, golden-blonde stage illuminated (if a bit over-brightly) by large, round, celestial pods hovering above added an aura of drama and enhanced anticipation as the seats filled to capacity.
While Blade, by now jazz drumming’s rockstar, may have been the featured attraction—commanding draw and attention—he was not the story Friday and is deliberately not the story here (pretty sure I’ve written plenty about the guy already). The group (comprised of piano/pump organ, two saxes ranging from soprano to bass, hollow-body electric guitar, upright and drums), once dubbed Brian Blade Fellowship, is now simply The Fellowship Band. If the name doesn’t convince that this is a true band, Blade’s drumming leaves no doubt. Musical brothers for over twelve years now, The Fellowship are a mature, intuitive, patient ensemble focused on the collective whole—a spacious, lush wash of sound undulating and tranquil; crashing and intense.
A joyous blur.
Blade is both the wave and the surfer; simultaneously creating motion and riding it. Happy quietly paddling out or boldly going tubular. At times barely touching a drum or cymbal with stick or brush and then abruptly, spasmodically possessed with whatever motion is necessary to get to where he wants to be on the kit…and NOW! His time-keeping is editorial, narrative, impulsive and abstract; it is broken yet always strangely fluid; and as definitively illustrated this night—which was my point—supremely supportive and musical.
Blade and The Fellowship are essentially the perfect subplot to update the still unfolding tale of Price and The Jazz Bakery. Sharing history and purpose, both are evolving and passionate collectives committed to a cause greater than their individual parts. The Jazz Bakery transcends its venue. Be it in a cramped and improvised photography studio; a beloved yet ultimately transient space in an old bakery building; a panoply of revolving performance spaces as diverse as Los Angeles itself; or the next future home to come, each musical feast—movable or not—bears its unique brand and spirit. They can take the jazz out of the bakery, but not The Bakery out of the jazz…kind of thing.