IT'S A RARE pleasure to be able to hear good music in a quaint atmosphere without having it interrupted by clanging cash registers or waitresses insisting that you buy another drink despite exorbitant cover charges. And that is just what Reflections, a new coffeehouse under The Real Paper, is like.
Besides daily doses of classical guitar, folk, jazz and chamber music, owner Milt James has put together a better than typical cafe menu; some hefty slices of banana and pecan bread are the most memorable dishes.
Reflections's egalitarian set-up--all of the workers are James' comrades--probably accounts for its unusual ambience, and the cup of 35 cent American or 45 espresso is a tasty and cheap pass to the seven hours of entertainment available each evening.
The teas are more exotic than the average Square brew and the ciders, with the exception of the geritol-like black cherry, sizzle appropriately while going down.
But Reflections's strongest point isn't what it does for the patrons. In an uncharacteristic move for a cafe owner, James doesn't seek the big staid names in the music business and instead puts local talent at the microphone.
You won't recognize Jeff Gardner's name unless you're in his Boston University graduate music class, but his own jazz creations or his refreshing Thelonius Monk interpretations would be confined to the afterhours keyboard if not for the Reflections showcase James provides for him tonight.
EVEN THE WALLS take on the "unknown" exposure theme, with James hanging paintings by obscure local artists and, in a change of pace usually restricted to educational tours, displaying works done by inmates of Billerica and other area prisons.
The musicians seem eager to perform and the occasional pauses are strictly for the musician to have time to choose his next selection, not some contrived union or contractual obligation.
James doesn't pay the performers and some place a tip jar above the piano, but a voluntary solicitation is little to ask for a nightful of music.
It's up to the musician to set the tone of the place. One of the classical pianists's plaintive pieces made a sin out of slamming a cup into its saucer, while a less sedate jazz pianist encouraged quiet voice-overs by banging out some irreverent jazz tunes.
JAMES HASN'T YET found a way to circumvent a Cambridge law which forbids brass or percussion instruments in his cafe, but the piano and guitar and woodwind instruments are enough to draw out for hours even the smallest item on the menu.
Inevitably, it's James that you reflect on when climbing the steps that lead out of the place. The Harvard grad who's taking a hiatus from the B.U. law school grind, he has had his restaurant dream come true for two weeks now, and he's still excited about the place. His enthusiasm filters in through his anxious introductions of the night's performers, or his grinning hellos as he eases into a conversation with one of his patrons.
There aren't enough ashes in the trays yet to tell whether Reflections' home-made concept of a coffeehouse is working out, but if James persists with this attitude of giving everybody more than their moneysworth, then there is a good chance it will.