Trip the Music Eclectic at The Firehouse Space

Originally published by Williamsburg Greenpoint News+Arts.

On a casual evening stroll it’s unlikely you’d simply chance upon The Firehouse Space on Frost Street, but if you did, you’d surely be intrigued enough to enter. The Firehouse Space is compelling not just because it’s a beautifully renovated former firehouse from bygone days but most primarily because of the dynamic performances you’ll find there. It’s a place to experience the innovative and the inspirational.

Brainchild of composer pianist Sandra Sprecher, the artistic director, The Firehouse Space is heading into its second year, and now hosts several weekly, curated events, from the Thursday night Bark and Scream Series to Friday night’s AV Wave. From song to dance to spoken word to cinematic electronic synthesis; from straight-on classical music to improvisational jazz, something remarkable happens every night at The Firehouse Space.

It’s difficult to put a label on the diversity of music, installation, experimentation and interdisciplinary entertainment you’ll find here. Grand and intimate, novel and traditional, contemporary and classical, primitive and sophisticated: if there exists another spot with such an incredible range of unconventional performance in such a friendly intimate setting, I do not know of it.
Friendly, down-to-earth, and insanely busy, as she’s in charge of every aspect of the place, Sandra Sprecher says, “I am trying to make a serious listening/viewing place that gives a variety of people the chance to be heard. My goal is to provide these artists with the best audience possible, given the often challenging nature of the projects.”

In terms of cultural variety, Roulette in Boerum Hill or Barbés in Park Slope might be comparable to The Firehouse Space. But they’re larger, they’re more established, and they have bars. At the Firehouse Space, there is no bar, though you can purchase beer or wine for $3. It seats about 70 people. The acoustics are great, the cost is $10, and the atmosphere is as informal as a musical salon, it’s that cozy. This doesn’t mean the acts and the musicianship are not masterful. A glance at the website reveals a schedule abounding with multi-disciplinary talent and technique.

On a Sunday night in May, we went to hear the trio of Marilyn Lerner (piano), Ken Filiano (bass) and Lou Grassi (drums), and what unfolded was an amazing soundscape of pure improvisation. These are three incredibly skilled musicians who know each other well enough to interweave their instrumental sound into what they call “spontaneous composition,” the shifts arising from the silences as they intuit each others’ intentions, and take the music in startling directions, each responding to and following the other. For the audience, the effect was riveting.

To quote Heraclitus, “If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it; for it is hard to be sought out, and difficult.”

Luckily, it’s not in the least bit difficult to check out The Firehouse Space. It’s close to the Graham Avenue L line stop. Although one might not chance upon it on an evening stroll, once discovered, it will quickly become a destination. Best to visit now, while The Firehouse Space is still off the beaten track, and you can still find a seat.

If you want to host a reception, a photo shoot, CD release party, product launch or conference, you can do that, too. With 4,000 square feet and 14-foot ceilings, the space includes a large kitchen with double professional Thermador Oven, and an outside deck with a hot tub and fireplace. The performance area itself contains two grand pianos, keyboard, drum set and lots of audio-visual and electronic equipment.

“We’ve just begun to explore creating site specific events that make use of the whole building both upstairs and down,” says Sprecher. “Ultimately I hope to offer a variety of classes and other activities that can involve the immediate community.” Towards that end, there’s now a jazz vocal class and Butch Morris doing a 2-day workshop in June.

Alas, The Firehouse Space will take a summer hiatus this year after June 17. But with a backlog of potential acts, the music returns with vengeance mid-September. Check out the web site for upcoming performances, prepare to open your mind and expect the unexpected.