After two years of closure, the official announcement declaring the permanent closing of Cafe Stritch early this year confirmed manys’ suspicions surrounding its reopening. Once a center of live Jazz in downtown San Jose, Stritch’s closure left a void in the music scene exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Located just a few buildings down from Cafe Stritch, The San Jose Jazz Organization(SJZ) attempted to bring live music back to local Jazz fans through their new “Break Room” sessions- turning their office space into a performance stage for Jazz musicians to perform to an audience via livestream. Live Jazz had returned to downtown San Jose, albeit virtually. Naturally, these live streamed performances begged the question of when and if the Break Room would become an in-person venue. Enter Alfa Mist. The British Jazz musician first gained prominence in the London Jazz scene collaborating with other London-based artists such as Yussef Dayes, Jordan Rakei, and Tom Misch. A blend of Jazz, Hip-Hop, Soul, and Psychedelic, Alfa has been SJZ’s first attempt to turn the Break Room sessions from a livestream into a physical venue with a live audience. Alfa Mist first came to my attention through a collaboration with Dayes on a song called, “Love is the Message '' that was introduced to me by a music instructor of mine. I was hooked. It overcame all my preconceived notions of Jazz and was my first real exposure to the genre. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to get tickets when I saw that he was coming to San Jose. The tickets were for a May 20th 9:00 PM show at the aforementioned SJZ Break Room. I headed there with Lewis, Tuck, Anni, and Steve. From the outside, the venue is extremely unnoticeable; It still has the appearance of an office building, so unless you had prior knowledge of the show, it would be fairly unapparent that a live show was about to begin. Although tonight the office was moonlighting as a Jazz venue, as you enter, you can still see the characteristics of a typical office space: the classic dark gray commercial carpet and lighter gray desk partitions separating office desks situated near the front of the venue. Unlike many office spaces I’m
familiar with however, a single Disco ball hung from the ceiling above the entrance. The room was dim and only the stage lights and light from the backlit illuminated the space. Right in front of the stage, were about 4 rows of chairs- behind them, was seating at high tables where I took my seat. On the sides of the stage was more seating: more high tables, as well as two sets of couches. All of these visuals combined, created a very laid-back and relaxing atmosphere. I’ve definitely had my fair share of anxiety going to concerts in the past, but the unassuming nature of the Break Room gave me a sense of relaxation.
Alfa took the stage around 9:15 or so, accompanied by his backing band: Jamie Leeming on guitar, Richard Spaven on drumset, Kaya Thomas-Dyke on bass, and Allison Phillips on Trumpet. Alfa Mist took his seat at the Piano. They opened with “Teki” off his most recent album release, “Bring Backs.” A droning, reverb drenched guitar introduced the song before the rest of the band joined in. The music felt relaxing while contemplative and perfectly fit the vibe of the Break Room. The song is driven by Leeming’s extended guitar solo, but a solo by Phillips also shines here. As this was my first time attending a Jazz show, I didn’t really know what to expect. Often after a display of particular skill from a band member, the crowd would erupt in applause. Often this was led by your own KSJS Jazz Manager, Lewis. Another highlight is “Mulago” which has a “spacey” quality to the song that incorporates attributes of ambient music. Alfa ended his set with one of his best, “Errors” off his 2017 album, Antiphon. This song was one of his longest-about 10 or 11 minutes. It was a great example of the cohesiveness of the band: every member was allowed to show their musicianship without stepping on another's toes. An encore had Alfa bring out one of his fan favorites, “Brian,” a short but sweet track that I think highlights Alfa’s Hip-Hop and Sampling background.
Seeing Alfa Mist was a great experience, especially given that it was the first Jazz show I’ve attended. I’m excited for the future of the Break Room as a continued space for in-person concerts, and hopefully we can see a return of Alfa to San Jose once again. For those interested in attending a show at the Break Room, it’s located on the corner of 310 South First Street. It’s a short walk from the southside of the SJSU campus and there is nearby parking at the ParkSJ garage on 2nd street.
Written by Zack Calusdian