(Le Caprice Restaurant, Arlington St , SW1. Review by Matthew Wright)
Since releasing Old Habits, his second solo album, last year, singer/songwriter Oli Rockberger has gradually been building a substantial two-pronged, transatlantic career. On this side of the pond, there were appearances at Love Supreme and the London Jazz Festivals, building on his slot as JazzFM’s artist of the week, soon after the album’s release last year. He was in London en route to Berlin for another gig when he dropped in on Sunday night diners at Le Caprice, just a few steps from The Ritz in St James's, to perform.
Le Caprice has teamed up with Jazz FM and leading Cognac producer Martell to present a monthly jazz session on the last Sunday of every month, with two sittings (7 and 9pm), and an alluring line-up of singers, including Julia Biel and Georgia Mancio. I reviewed the album Old Habits here on its release, noting the Rockberger’s combination of the “emotional directness of pop, the compelling rhythms of R&B, and the wit and fresh instrumental juxtapositions of jazz combine into a deceptively complex and tantalising experience”. As always, a live performance added detail and authenticity, enable the soft layers of Rockberger’s delivery to come through beautifully.
Sets are fairly short, so we didn’t get the whole album (nor could we have, since ”Never Grow Old” requires a children’s choir) but Rockberger chose an engagingly varied selection comprising about half of Old Habits. The title track incorporates some enjoyably showy synth playing, while “Queen of Evasion” is dominated by a catchy R&B chorus which worms its way irresistibly round the mind. The new composition “Ridiculous” using the air powered melodica, an amusing combination of synth, bagpipe and Christmas cracker novelty, added an exotic flavour. Throughout - and another advantage of live performance - the depth and craft of Rockberger’s lyrics stood out. He’s a superb lyric writer. Rockberger was joined by guitarist Femi Temowo, whose laid-back but still penetrating attack contrasted nicely with Rockberger’s delicately rasping voice.
The restaurant is wrapped around the ground floor of a residential building in a kind of jagged L shape, which doesn’t create an obvious stage area, though nowhere is far from the musicians, and there are lots of intimate nooks for diners. The fortunate members of the press attending sat, apparently, at Princess Diana’s preferred table, which is perfectly situated opposite the performer, with a fine view down Arlington Street. It’s always a difficult call for a restaurant to balance diners’ conversation with the singer’s audibility. The Sunday night crowd, mainly couples and families rather than hard-core music fans, clearly wanted a catch-up, and expectations needed to be managed a little more assertively. A discreet piece of staging might also help make the musicians more prominent.
Bars and restaurants have hosted jazz since its earliest days in the backstreets of New Orleans (though they wouldn’t have looked much like Le Caprice) and there’s still something deliciously sensuous about the combination of the two. Since the decline of Pizza on the Park, the lack of provision for high-quality dinner jazz in London has been felt even more keenly, so any new venture should be welcomed. The menu is a delectable range of modern British and European. My duck salad and fillet of cod were, tangily crunchy and firmly subtle respectively, perfectly done and sensitively flavoured. Le Caprice has great food and great music already. With a little more attention to the housekeeping, it could be an essential destination on the food- and music-lover’s London itinerary.
To see the full jazz schedule, visit www.jazzfm.com/jazzsessions
To make a reservation call 0207 629 2239 or visit www.le-caprice.co.uk/booking