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Beat Street
By Todd S. Inoue

Stephen Yerkey
Around the Horn Rim: Stephen Yerkey joins the Klezmer All-Stars Wednesday (March 26) at Cubberley Community Center.

Rebirth of the Cool:
San Jose's newest club, Fuel 44, begins construction

DOWNTOWN San Jose's Ajax Lounge left a legacy that many of today's nightclubs aspire to. The upstairs space now inhabited by the B-Hive was the nexus for SoFA's jazz, roots and swing socialites. The bookings were adventurous; pre­buzz bin Ben Harper, Alejandro Escovedo, the Fugees, the Roots and every acid-jazz group around the Bay Area did time in the dingy upstairs club. When the relationship between owners and management was severed in 1995, the Ajax era ended. Two years have passed, and word is that former Ajax manager Chris Esparza is set to open a new venue. "Construction starts in 10 days," Esparza confirms.

The new club, scheduled to open in May, will be located in downtown San Jose near Post Street and South Almaden Avenue, just off the South First Street corridor. The name will be Fuel 44. "Fuel is our word for the music, the people, the food, everything," Esparza explains. "It will be a European cafe that meets a soulful jazz club. We're going to be open at 7am with full European coffee service. Then it molds into a meeting place in the midday and turns into a jazz venue at night."

Fuel 44 will host live bands and/or DJs seven nights a week. The music will encompass a mix of soul, funk, gospel, jazz, swing and roots, with a heavy emphasis on Latin-style music. "Music from Cuba, Latin America and Africa is blowing up in the big cities, especially in the hip cities like London and Tokyo," Esparza says. "Even in San Francisco, clubs like the Elbo Room and Bruno's have a heavy Latin influence--and it's not just salsa but all Latin styles." To fill his time until opening day, Esparza, with help from his old-school Ajax cronies, takes over the Hi-Fi Lounge on Wednesdays. Called Bump City, the music night gives a taste of Fuel 44: Latin, funk, old-school hip-hop and soul.

Esparza and his former Ajax cohorts haven't been away from the music. They put together the adventurous Groovin' on a Sunday Afternoon series at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez, as well as parties and shows at the Usual, Gordon Biersch and Hochburg Von Germania. Esparza still holds faith in the downtown San Jose club scene. "I think a lot has happened since we left," he says. "Everything seems to be thriving again. There's lots of stuff going on. New buildings are going up every day. We'll be hidden away but still in the heart of things."

And One

Earthwise Productions has a few shows jumping off in March at the Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto. Sunday (March 23) features Orbit, Readymade (with members of Heavy Into Jeff and Delarosa) and Gunn High School students Wikkit. Wednesday (March 26) sees the South Bay appearance of the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars with Stephen Yerkey and Royal Fingerbowl. The first show of the jazz series, dubbed the Quantum Decoherence of Jazz, takes place on March 28 with the Charlie Hunter Quartet and the Will Bernard Quartet. ... In April, San Jose State University Student Union Ballroom will host Medeski Martin and Wood on the 20th and Ben Harper on the 30th. ... Freedy Johnson plays a one-off at the Stanford Coffee House (on Stanford campus) on April 7 at 9pm.

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From the March 20-26, 1997 issue of Metro

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