227 4th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215
227 4th Avenue
That giant was part of a vibrant cultural scene in the early days of the 20th century, a time when Brooklyn was a hub of artistic and economic vitality. The depression put an end to that and began a prolonged period of decline for the Gowanus region. The neighborhood was pretty raw when Eric bought the place, Marc Rosenblatt, a Lyceum staff member recalled over the din of Fourth Avenue traffic at the entrance of the club last month, and this was just another derelict building. Indeed, Fourth Avenue was a place to avoid in 1996. Park Slope's transformation was already underway, but still years away from staking claim to the desolate swaths of land bordering the Gowanus Canal. It took five years to get the building up to code and open to the public.
Today, Brooklyn Lyceum is something of an institution. A wildcard that has become one of the main players in the Brooklyn arts renaissance, offering diverse nightly acts that range from improv comedy to avant jazz. Along with performance spaces like Issue Project Room, the Lyceum has embraced its location, restoring and taking advantage of the open, quirky space and appealing to locals with yoga classes, readings and kid-friendly movie nights. Richmond has gone even further, joining forces with Green-Wood Cemetery to create the Only The Dead series, a collection of performances by local artists throughout the historic cemetery grounds.
It's hard to miss the Lyceum as you walk down Fourth. The hand-painted sign above the entrance stands in stark contrast to the word Men etched in stone above it; posters for upcoming acts line the walls and railing. Inside, a barista stands at the espresso machine, ready to mix a drink, grab a beer out of the fridge under the counter or simply point you towards the massive performance space downstairs.
The space was abuzz, if sparsely attended, on a Sunday last month before a set by Joe Magnarelli's sextet. Friends and performers from the early act chatted amid folding chairs and reclaimed church pews, as jazz fans trickled in for the performance. The main space, a sprawling, boomy room with concrete floors and 30-foot ceilings is divided by a large black curtain. Performers set up mere feet from the first row of spectators, despite the largeness of the space, and a surprisingly intimate setting is established.
Jazz has become a mainstay at Brooklyn Lyceum and the club has hosted some of New York's finest musicians. The curator of the Sunday night jazz series, Chris Komer, has worked to bring some of his favorite jazz acts to the Lyceum, among them many notable players that rarely make it out to Brooklyn. Komer, himself an accomplished French horn player and improviser, brings a deep knowledge of the NY jazz scene to his job and a musician's touch to his dealings with performers and fans. I've been in charge of booking Sundays since September, he said between sips of beer, and Joe Phillips does Wednesdays. Between them they've booked acts ranging from Cyro Baptista to Ryan Kisor. It's a great space, Komer exclaimed before running to adjust the curtain, a little boomy, but you know…
If there is a downside to the impressive main performance space, it is the acoustics. Bass and drums blended and became almost indiscernible in the live space, but it didn't stop Magnarelli and saxophonist Dick Oatts from delivering chorus after chorus of memorable improvisations. To top it off, Magnarelli called Komer down for an impromptu version of Miles Davis' Walkin'.
~ Matthew Miller
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