I’m lucky to live in Silicon Valley, there are several venues that play live jazz pretty often. One of the newest is Cafe Pinkhouse in Saratoga, Calif. The place holds maybe 50-60 people, all facing an oddly shaped stage that sort of measures 25 feet by 10 feet. In fact, the whole room is oddly shaped to begin with. There’s a piano squeezed into the front corner. The front and second row are pretty close together, so long legs could be a problem and you might be better off seated at the tables or barstool area in the back of the room, which are still not far from the stage.
The chairs were nicely cushioned and comfortable for the duration. I came on a “light menu” night. The curry chicken I had was tasty ($15) and while it’s not a large meal by any means, it was priced about right. On the menu was a request that you spend $10 on food or drink. That may seem a bit odd, but apparently there isn’t a two drink minimum to help the place pay the bills. I was happy to oblige, as jazz venues do come and go. A glass of Robert Hall merlot was $11. If you want a full meal on one of their light menu nights, you might eat something first.
The front row where I sat was just a few feet from the performers, but the sound was not too loud. Nor was the stage raised much of the floor, so I wasn’t angling my neck upward. I arrived an hour early on a Thursday night and could have sat anywhere I wanted. You can request a certain area to sit in advance when you buy tickets, although they don’t guarantee it.
I’d rate Pinkhouse as having some of the best sound I’ve recently heard. The bass, in particular, was full, rounded and not buried in the mix. The higher frequencies of the bass strings came through very nicely, unlike many venues. It had punch, too, probably due to the sound engineer’s use of compression and a noise gate. Kudos! No pianist that night, so I can’t tell you about that.
Breakstone reminded me a bit of Kenny Burrell, with a different harmonic twist. Not that Joshua is a copycat. There’s just something about the dark, woody and warm tone coming out of his decades old, wood worn Gibson L5 that reminded me of Burrell. Josh’s guitar’s finish has seen better days (I think they call it patina), but sounded absolutely great.
My favorite tune of the evening was an old Mal Waldron ballad, Soul Eyes. Breakstone can play fast, but on this one, he didn’t overplay. Every note counted, as if he was a guitar version of Miles Davis. Even when Breakstone does play fast, it’s not so quick that you can’t hear the notes. I like that in a guitarist. I tire of nothing but speed.
If a guitarist goes strays too far from a melodic center, I can lose interest. But I enjoyed every tune Breakstone played.
I’d heard of Vince Lateano. His name is comes up pretty often in jazz circles in this area, but this was my first time hearing him. Breakstone announced that the band hadn’t really rehearsed much (if at all), which is par for the course for most jazz groups. Lateano and Barshay fit right in, following Breakstone’s lead without missing a beat. I came to appreciate both players.
Lateano comes across as a modern drummer, lots of fills and little things he’s doing on the kit that keep your interest and push the tune. Barshay was very fluid on the strings. He estimated his upright bass was around 100 years old and it looked the part. Beat, scratched, scarred, with really nice tone. All three men were quite friendly and approachable.
A terrific night of jazz, with a guitarist worth hearing. I’m listening to his CDs, too. And support Cafe Pinkhouse if you’re in the area. They host live jazz several nights a week and I met one of the owners, Masato Toshima, who seemed very cool. I believe his wife brought my meal, although a waiter of sorts took the order. Check out a medley of tunes recorded live from the evening and below that, a video, too!
Here is Joshua, Vince and Peter playing Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby My Dear.”