I finally made it down to Active Cafe in Oakland, and it’s a heck of a nice place.
Since being told about it by Jacob Zimmerman, who’s organizing the Actual Jazz Series on Sundays there, I’ve been hoping to check it out. Sunday evening is a tough proposition for me — ideal time to cook dinner with the kids — but I finally made the trip a few weeks ago, catching the April installment.
It’s situated on a corner, and on a nice day with all the doors open and the Bay breeze coming in, it’s an ideal neighborhood hangout. The place was crowded most of the time I was there, a healthy sized crowd for a Sunday near dinnertime.
Some fraction of them were there to see the Eric Nakanishi Quintet, teenage beboppers who played the afternoon’s first set of jazz. They were pretty good, with Nakanishi himself showing some nice skills on sax. I was also impressed with the keyboardist, Matt Wong, who put up some nice solos and some creating comping choices. They did some snappy and crowd-pleasing stuff, including a Latin take on one oldie — “Oleo,” IIRC.
Anteater played second, showing off longer pieces with a freer structure. Some of the crowd who had loved the party-tune atmosphere of the first act did stay for Anteater, and even if they weren’t converted, they were at least appreciative.
The difference in the level of play was evident, especially in the case of bassist Kim Cass, climbing up and down the fingerboard rapidly during some captivating solos. Overall, he played the kind of assertive, forceful bass that helps a trio really stand out. Zimmerman (who showed off some circular breathing technique) and drummer Sam Ospovat were terrific as well. The pieces were longer, and the group took a chance very early in the set by playing a very quiet stretch, something that could be just death in a restaurant setting. But the audience respectfully stuck with the music and seemed pretty happy with the results.
Actual Cafe is a small venue but very inviting. They’re doing a lot of work to cultivate a community atmosphere — supporting the idea of bicycling the neighborhood, hosting weekly bingo games, serving up Bay Area microbrews. The music shows seem to be working, as they’ve added John Schott’s trio playing monthly as an adjunct to the Actual Jazz Series — and with the doors open, they can advertise the music to the street. It’s a nice place, and the vegan tomato soup I had was a nice treat.