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Hittin' the high notes

Gary Motley Trio opens new jazz club at the Vault

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High Note Jazz Club, June 29 -- These days, when a great music club opens in Atlanta, it's cause for rejoicing. Be prepared to rejoice.

High Note at the Vault is the latest brainchild of the Masquerade Corporation, headed by club owner Dean Riopelle. Formerly a Goth/GenX bar, the ambience has taken a 180-degree swing into the sophisticated world of the New York jazz club. It's catering to an older, music-loving audience devoted to the American popular song presented in traditional jazz stylings.

"We felt that Atlanta needed a jazz club aimed at the true jazz enthusiast," says marketing director Barbara Walle. "So we're sticking with the standards. We're not going to stray away into fusion or any other types, no matter who is booked here. And later on, we want to bring in special guest performers, such as singers, and maybe segue into cabaret as well."

Friday night's grand opening featured the Gary Motley Trio, possibly the most respected traditional jazz combo in the city. Made up of pianist Gary Motley, drummer Bernard Linette and bassist Moffett Morris, the trio is booked at the club through August.

Forget about brass and wood paneling -- Atlanta hasn't seen anything like this in a long time. Prints of Lady Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Charlie "Bird" Parker cover the walls. The former dance floor, flanked by two side bars, now boasts bistro tables unashamedly adorned with Lucky Strike ashtrays (during opening weekend, there were cigarette girls with trays as well). The three-tiered stage is backed by a wall of woven silver chrome.

"This reminds me of the Blue Note in New York," says drummer Linnette. "They had a back wall that looked just the same, behind the same classic setup, with the piano in the center. But these acoustics make me feel like I have center stage."

Motley says the stage reminds him of the way jazz is traditionally presented and there's not a bad seat in the house. "This is a radical move for Buckhead, bucking against the trend. It's a big bold step, and as a musician, I am glad to see it," he says.

The music is taken so seriously at the new club that the pouring ends at the side bars in the main room when the set begins. Once the musicians start playing, patrons must go to one of the adjoining rooms to finish their conversations.

Gary Motley plays the piano with the dexterity and melodic complexity of Oscar Peterson. Standards such as "My Romance" and "I'll Remember April," as well as works by Miles Davis and Antonio Carlos Jobim, were given authentic yet fresh classic jazz arrangements. From the Bill Evans treatment of "Someday My Prince Will Come" to a fast-paced hell-for-leather "Cherokee" (featuring exciting solos by Linnette and Morris), the Trio played to a savvy, appreciative audience that came to hear the music.

The second set began with a request for "Take the A Train," highlighted by a traditional deep, complex piano riff introduction and some imaginative cymbal effects by Linnette. A rhapsodic "All the Things You Are" -- a jazz symphony in blue -- was followed by a half-ragtime, half-stride chromatic improvisation reminiscent of Jelly Roll Morton, which led into a spirited "Sweet Georgia Brown."

When the musicians take a break, patrons can wander through the adjoining rooms, all complete with their own bars. One room resembles an ice cave, done in sky blue with silver lamé sofas. The red-and-black lacquer Japanese room has a built-in Zen waterfall behind the bar, while the elegant gray vault room features the original bank vault fixtures (so far retained through every incarnation of the nightclub).

All in all, the ambience matches the musical integrity and aesthetic vision of the club. For those who want to hear traditional jazz in this city on a consistent basis -- and if we're lucky, perhaps a little cabaret as well -- finally, there's a place to go.

The High Note Jazz Club at the Vault, 3259 Roswell Road, Buckhead, is open Wed.-Sat. at 8 p.m., with entertainment from 9 p.m.-2 a.m. There is on-site parking. For information, call 404-239-0202.

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