Breks in Oakland, California

It is a restaurant/bar/club on 5th street beside Freeway 880 in downtown Oakland. When we got there on a Sunday afternoon, there was no activities around the establishment. It may be different during the week and during daytime because the Oakland Police Department is across the way on the other side of the freeway, and there seems to be businesses on either side of Breks.

A bar and the restaurant is downstairs, and the "club" is upstairs. It is a small space that holds about ten tables for four. The building is brick but the ceiling is low, so sound is confined and does not echo. It is a intimate setting. Table clothes covers the table with a candle ready to be lit. Light is dim and is not conducive to non-flash picture taking of the musicians.

A simple menu is served: fried chicken, catfish, zucchini, garlic prawns and jambalaya. I felt bad for the wait person, because he had to bring all the drinks and food from downstairs via the stairs.

We meant to hear Robin Gregory for years and had never made the effort until this May. She was accompanied by one of the Bay Area Jazz fixtures in the area, vibraphonist Yancy Taylor. On piano was Leonard Thompson, Darrell Green was on drums and Ed Williams on bass.

Taylor knows his vibes and plays it with ease and style. Robin Gregory has a mellow, smoky sound. She reminds me a little of Nina Simone. She sings Jazz standard, and right on the spot. There is little deviation and she does not scat. There is a tendency to delay the attack of notes, but is used effectively, and with good control. Haybert, our publisher, thought that she nailed" Let There be Love," and I liked "But Beautiful."

Leonard Thompson, one of the better piano player in the Jazz community, accompanied skillfully on the keyboard with Darrell Green tastefully providing accents with the brushes. Ed Williams supported it all with fine lines on his bass. The group swung in Dizzy's "Con Alma."

It was delightful to see most of the ten tables were occupied and most of the audience African-American. We always lament the absence of the group where this music came from, at places like Yoshi's and Pearl's. We are happy to see them here at Breks.

by Stella Cheung Houston

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