Running From Bears at Lost Leaf

This is part of a series of reviews of bands who play weekly at local bars.

The show: Running From Bears at the Lost Leaf.

The look: Like an New York jazz club underground, but with more space and above ground.

The smell: Light perspiration and aluminum.

The taste: Savory, and slightly forbidden.

Three words/phrases to describe the night: Underground, old-fashioned, smooth.

Who to bring with you: A great conversationalist, particularly if you can also cuddle with him/her.

Drink of the night: One of the many bottled beers the Lost Leaf carries. My pick was the Prescott Brewing Company's Liquid Amber Ale in a can. Smooth and delish.

The Lost Leaf in CenPho's trendy Roosevelt Row can easily be mistaken for a house. Well, actually, it is a house. But it can easily be mistaken for one that is lived in. The only thing that distinguishes it to the unobservant passerby is the sound of a saxophone or upright bass wafting in the breeze, and a few dim, colored lights illuminating the porch.

Entering the old brick building with worn wooden floors is a bit like stepping into another place entirely. As I walked in, I heard jazz coming from the back room, and lots of conversations being had in the front. The solitary bartender stood behind a counter in what was once the kitchen of the house, and it felt was as though you were in some very cool friend of a friend's private gathering.

Not to sound redundant, as I know that endless amounts have been written and blogged about how much downtown Phoenix has changed over the years, but it still amazes me just how different it is from the way I remember it as a child. Even walking up the back alley to get to the Lost Leaf, there were murals on walls and dumpsters, and the feel was closer to what I associate with parts of New York's Lower East Side than my connotation with our desert metropolis. Don't get too excited -- I'm not comparing the two things. But for a city that doesn't have a huge music scene, and a remarkably small jazz community, it's hard not to feel a little bit like you're in a new place when confronted with such a place.

In the interest of full disclosure I must admit that a few members of the modern jazz quintet Running From Bears were teachers of mine when I played in jazz ensembles at ASU. Having said this, the young, vibrant group played original tunes with a few unconventional covers, and had a captive audience. People in both parts of the house took care to pay attention closely to what was happening musically, often clapping after individuals' solos, which are frequently ignored in crowds where jazz just makes up background music.

Grateful for good music and friendly people in downtown without pretense, the night ended with cheap beer and a jazz infused Björk cover. Not bad for the dregs of the summer.

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