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November 3rd, 2004 Tim Duroche | Night Avenger
 

Karim of the Crop

     
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Casanovas, octogenarian ballroom dancers, Riviera jewel thieves and supper-club Lotharios will all tell you: Nothing closes the deal or establishes the scene of the crime like proper lighting, a savory meal and a libidinal jazz soundtrack. Abou Karim is such a locale.

The 28-year-old-restaurant, which local jazz-head Gus Hadad bought in June, is a place where aural and edible complexes fit hand-in-glove. It carries on a tradition that has existed since Prohibition, when jazz (along with alcohol and the movies) boldly suggested, maybe for the first time in our puritan history, that pleasure was a worthwhile quest.

Hadad, owner of the late Jazz de Opus and formerly of Vine Leaves, is a dear, affable people you're apt to meet. After some disappointing turns (the demise of Opus last year and lukewarm reception for VL), he's back doing what he does best: running a great Middle Eastern restaurant and providing the most spectacular ambience you could ask for in a night spot. The soft-spoken singer-pianist Tom Grant notes the warm, welcoming feel and the unusual, yet somehow not incongruous, mix of belly dancing and jazz. Clubs and club owners like Gus are "all too rare in the music business," Grant says.

Hadad acquired Abou Karim in June 2004. With the help of his brother, he dug out the old de Opus piano, moved it in Karim's front door and invited his favorite singers and pianists in out of the cold.

Now every weekend diners are treated to low-key performances by local luminaries like Grant, Mary Kadderly, pianist Dave ("I never tell people I'm a musician, because they might think I'm responsible for what's on the radio") Frishberg and, most notably, Nancy King--one of the world's most singular, transportive jazz voices.

Since the closing of Opus, King and pianist Steve Christofferson have been an act without an audience. One of our city's greatest jazz assets, the duo has been mining the American popular songbook with a beat coolness and mood-altering immediacy since 1978. Now that Hadad has put a charming roof over their heads, Portlanders have at least one sure sign that, nail-biting election be damned, gray skies are going to clear up.


Abou Karim Restaurant, 221 SW Pine St., 223-5058. Nancy King and Dave Frishberg, 8:30 pm Friday, Nov. 5. Tom Grant, 8:30 pm Saturday, Nov. 6. No cover.
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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