Harlem Saturday Night

In “I’m Waiting for the Man”, Lou Reed heads up to Lexington and 125 with 26 dollars in his hand. Our night begins a few blocks over, getting a fix that only cost us 20 bucks. I can’t remember which jazz great it was who said of heroin: “if God made anything better, he kept it to himself.” Pshaw! He made something way better: Roti. Good Trinidadian Roti is not easy to come by in New York. We used to head over to Gloria’s West Indian food, deep in the heart of Brooklyn, to get our fix. Travel time on the subway, about an hour each way. Might as well just fly to Port of Spain. Well, now we know there’s no need for that, because Harlem has a great alternative: Roti Plus. For our inaugural visit, we stuck to the basics, chana roti and ginger beer. We asked for some doubles as well, but as everywhere, you have to get in early to get the doubles (which are traditionally a breakfast food). The roti skins were fresh and soft, with plenty of that great split-pea flour in between the layers. The potato and chana curry inside was also good, with just the right amount of pepper sauce. And without the oiliness that sometimes afflicts roti, it weighs in on the healthy side. I’m already thinking about the curried fish I’m going to have on our next visit.

With happy roti chemicals coursing through our veins, we headed over to Lenox & 125th for our destination: the storied Lenox Lounge. What a gem. The cool art deco facade gets your hopes up, and the club inside does not disappoint. Once inside, you pass through the bar. Signs on the tables ask patrons not to take pictures, and for good reason–it’s like a movie set. We’re there for the early show, so the room is not exactly hopping, but what a classic. After taking in that scene for a while, we head to our little wrap-around booth in the Zebra Room. Sitting under a poster of Billie Holiday, the singer most associated with the club, it’s easy to drift into a reverie, dreaming of all the great performances that have taken place in that little room. But tonight we are there to see the Houston Person Quartet. Person sets down his Starbucks and leads the band through a set of post-bop, soul-jazz and ballads. These guys are the real deal. Person has tremendous economy of motion, and when he breaks into sixteenth-note bop riffs, he’s barely moving at all. Drummer Chip White swings, with an aggressive, loud sound. I’m listening to Chip’s album Music and Lyrics right now. Nice–I’ll be checking him out again, I’m sure. I was also very impressed by Swedish bassist Per-Ola Gadd. This place is special and will definitely enter the repertoire, but next time, we’ll make the late set to cut down on the squares…

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