In his latest live music review, local music enthusiast and drummer Baz Brehaut was at St. James to review Le Jazz Accord and other musicians.
Walking up Smith Street towards St Paul’s 'Sunken Gardens' on a very chilly Friday night, my eye was taken by a blue neon sign reading "café open".
While we are all familiar with the frontage of St. James, the plate glass windows at the rear are rather obscured by the trees at the back of the Sunken Gardens. But in the evening, St. James takes on a different look and feel. Various colours and shapes light up the back of the Gardens as if projected. And on that Friday, the unmistakable sound of a saxophone carried on the night air.
The new Local & Wild Restaurant at St. James was packed. I was lucky to get a seat. The venue has great acoustics and the layout allows you to mingle, sit at a table or have a seat on a sofa. The band always remain within comfortable earshot.
It occurred to me that it's one of the few venues where food and music work well. Other venues can be dominated by the catering arrangements. It’s not uncommon for the audience to be devouring the equivalent of a hog roast within feet of the stage as the artists put their heart and soul into a performance.
I’d seen Le Jazz Accord play in March last year, albeit in a more intimate setting and to a smaller audience, but once again they were clearly in their element playing to an appreciative crowd.
The band is fronted by Troy Queripel (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Ted Osmond (saxophone). At times, Troy appears to have the role of musical director and floor manager while Ted intros the track with a bit of a back story for context. Kieran Rose (on vocals) dips in and out with ease - even with a trace of swagger.
Fortunately, the band can rely on one another. They’re comfortable, confident, a tight unit, which in turn allows Kieran to walk up to the mic to sing effortlessly The More I See You or The Girl From Ipanema.
Ordinarily, the band would have been joined by Martin Shires on keys.
As Le Jazz Accord had a mid-set break, Julia Jager and Allan Skirrow took to the stage. What they do is simple and effective - a piano and a voice.
Julia has a voice that songs such as Misty could have been written for. The pair haven’t been working together very long but they understand each other. The musical chemistry is clear to see.
I’ve seen Allan play in other settings. His animated style is engaging. He’s capable of working with a choir of 80 voices in a church or one voice in café.
I asked Julia how their collaboration came about.
“Allan and I started working together as a duo last summer in what was supposed to be a one-off, but we’ve enjoyed it so much we’ve carried on," she said.
"We're looking to extend our repertoire with more from the Great American Songbook and perform more this year."
Their performance on the night was well received. Songs such as Fever, Misty and Someone To Watch Over Me give you a flavour of their set and influences.
“Its great to perform at St James," said Julia. "The sound system and acoustics are excellent, the team really know what they’re doing, and the audience were just so welcoming."
As Le Jazz Accord returns to the stage, I’m stood at the bar in conversation with a self-confessed jazz fan.
He told me: "When I worked in the UK, I’d have to travel miles to see a band of this quality, and in some dark cavern too - not a setting like this."
I remarked that, while St. James isn't Ronnie Scott's or the Left Bank, we weren’t ‘left out’ either and as an island we punch above our weight with the variety and quality of local musicians.
The band rounded off its second set and the audience observed the age-old jazz, play and applaud protocol as they were treated to solos from John Sealey (guitar), Nigel Davis (bass) and an extended drum solo from Paul Langlois.
You may be familiar with the works of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock, but if you’re not it doesn’t matter - just take some time out to see a group of musicians do something well and at the same time enjoying it.
St James is broadening its offering and providing a venue that balances the needs of both artists and clients.
I spoke briefly to Greg, the facilities and bar manager.
Most Fridays there’s everything from jazz to funk to DJs - and the Unplugged Club once a month.
The Local and Wild Restaurant is now open Monday to Friday for lunch and Wednesday to Saturday for dinner. It's run by a talented duo, James and Nathalia, who previously ran Tide and Time in Sark.