The Mighty Funhouse at MotorCity Wine

It was a rainy, windy evening and I decided I needed some music. The wind was so strong that the dog was huddled up to me as I looked over the possibilities available for the music I like on a Wednesday evening in Detroit. There were about four “regular” choices. I decided on The Mighty Funhouse who play every Wednesday evening in the Corktown area of Detroit. 

 

The Mighty Funhouse, Left to Right: John Douglas, Phil Hale, Skeeto Valdez and Paul Randolph

 
I was surprised when I got to the parking lot to see how crowded it was on a Wednesday and then remembered that a lot of people are off work or in town for the holidays. I walked in to the sound of the music and virtually no place to sit so I got a lemon soda and stood at the rail looking I to the room where the music was being played. After just a bit a girlfriend tapped me on the shoulder and showed me an open spot next to her and her friend at the bar. I usually don’t sit at the bar and so this was a fresh perspective. As I saw people I knew, there were hugs all around and I felt at home again listening to the music. 

The present composition of the Funhouse produces an unusual sound. Each of the musicians usually plays in a different genre. 

Skeeto Valdez has the most experience in rock and funk. He also plays drums in a jazz group frequently. He is a master at several genres and the organizer behind the Mighty Funhouse. 

 

Skeeto Valdez

 
Phil Hale usually plays either jazz or R’n’B.  As with many Detroit musicians, he started playing at an early age in church.

Phil Hale

Paul Randolph has most of his musical career out of work Detroit so what I see is that he does blues and vocals at this venue. 

 

Paul Randolph

 
Finally, there is John Douglas who primarily plays jazz. Although I have heard him play swing and R n B. 

 

John Douglas

 
Last night one of the other patrons and I were trying to figure out what genre we were hearing. We just could not find a good answer. This band is borrows from all the genres I have mentioned and you can hear all of them in the sound. A normally straight forward blues tune will have a little jazzy overtone provided by John Douglas. 

They usually do “Ain’t It Funky Now ” which is a great number to showcase all their talent. I was able to leave with a happy brain.

The Mike Jellick Trio Conflated with a little Funhouse

MJT set ip at NNL

<The Mike Jellick Trio is conflated since it is covering two weeks. Every Wednesday night, unless there are substitutions, the Mike Jellick Trio plays for the evening, They play alone for the first set and have other musicians substitute or join in on other sets. I feely admit that I like the first set and much more often than not give the other sets a miss. I admire that the members of the trio do a lot towards mentoring many young musicians. The music is usually so good for me that I go home after the first set even though I may start the evening with other intentions. It may be also that I have something to eat at Northern Lights Lounge so I am also somewhat relaxed after the first set with a little food and a glass of club soda garnished with a slice of lime on the table.

The weeks I am talking about were November 20, 2013 and December 4, 2013. The trio had the same musicians with Mike Jellick on keys, Jesse Kramer on drums and Miles Brown on Bass. The two evenings had a completely different feel or maybe I did. Something I will never know. The factual difference is that on the first evening, Mike Jellick announced all the songs and on the second, one was announced. I did arrive after the set started on both evenings so all I can say absolutely is the only song I heard Mike announce on the second evening was “Swinging at the Haven”. The first week had Autumn Leaves, “Swinging at the Haven”, “Caravan” and “Benny’s Tune” and more.The difference may have been the crowd. The first week, the crowd was loud, attentive and appreciative. The second night was much quieter.DSCN0085/p> Left to right: Mike Jellick on keys, Miles Brown on bass and Jesse Kramer on drums.

I found that I really like hearing “Autumn Leaves”, “Caravan”, and “Swinging at the Haven”. Although some songs get tired and some are done too much, when I hear a group that can make these songs sound so fresh and new it is exciting and that is precisely what the Mike Jellick Trio does to the music. Of the three, my favorite is “Caravan” (not played the second week) and I have heard the song so many times it has its own groove in my brain. When the trio plays the song my groove has to rearrange itself to accommodate the fresh perspective offered. And it is exciting and makes me excited by music all over again. So, the key to why I like the group as I have said before in different words, the innovation I hear at this venue is beyond compare.

MJT

After the Mike Jellick Trio on December 4, 2013, I headed to Motor City wine for The Funhouse since I had the energy and had not been there in a while. The server at the bar remembered that I like the San Pelligrino blood Orange soda and got me a glass as soon as she was free. I walked in on the last song of the set. I refer to this as my impeccable timing.

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Left to right: Kris Kurzawa on guitar, Skeeto Valdez on Drums, James Simonson on bass and Philip Whitfield on keys.

I was sitting by myself when the servers from Northern Lights Lounge came in and we sat together. Skeeto had wished me a happy birthday and the refrain was repeated several times to my embarrassment. Of well, once a year is not all that tough. The Funhouse is another unique style of funky, happy jazz that is a real pick me up for me. This is a place where I can settle into a groove and go with it. It is another place where the musicians have played enough with each other that it is a group rather that a battle of egos. The music is tight and cohesive and is always solid entertainment. I left toward the end if the set since I had an early morning appointment. It is always hard to leave when you want more.

Labor Day at the Detroit Jazz Festival 2013

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Hart Plaza Fountain, Detroit, MI

The last day of the festival started out poorly for me. I,was about 20 minutes into the drive downtown when I realized I did not have my VIP wristband on my arm. I was in a rush to see the Aaron Diehl Trio. I made the decision to go back and get it. Or course , the wristband was not critical but there are some perks that mean a lot to me. So I raced back home and got the wristband and went on may way downtown again.

I walked very fast from the parking garage to the Absopure stage and got there in time to see the Aaron Diehl Trio. I was able to find a spot and sit down and just enjoy the music. The music I heard started slowly with a bluesy undertone. Aaron Diehl (piano) playing with Warren Wolf (vibes) is a dynamite combination. I didn’t get the names of the sidemen and can just say that even though I only got part of the set, rushing to see it was well worth it.

20130904-102736.jpgAaron Diehl Trio with Warren Wolf

I went over to the VIP desk to get my parking validated. I decided to get lunch since the next group I wanted to see was at the other end of the festival. The food I get with my pass is one of the parts that means a lot to me. I do not care for festival food and the food I get at the VIP tent Is so very good for food that is out in chafing dishes for a bit of time. This time the choices were cornbread, cole slaw, pinto bean salad, Itslian sausage with peppers, chicken with BBQ sauce, macaroni and cheese, a fruit plate, cookies and strawberry shortcake. I took the cornbread, cole slaw, Italian sausage, chicken, mac ‘n’ cheese, fruit and strawberry shortcake. Even though the food is much better than the food offered at the food booths, each day there were some misses. Today, the mac ‘n’ cheese tasted like it was made with some cheap cheese product rather than real cheese and I gave it a pass after one bite. All the rest was edible. Even though the strawberry shortcake was edible, the biscuit was not real shortcake and the faux whip cream reminded me of styrofoam. I was ready to go on to the rest of the festival.

I headed up to the JP Morgan Chase stage to see the Robert Glasper Experiment. He was here last year and I heard from some how he “killed it”. I saw it again when he played at a jam session that evening. He was playing with Casey Benjamin(sax, keytar), Mark Colenburg(drums) and Derek Hodge(bass). Wallace Roney(tpt) sat in on one number. There was a long delay because the set up crew was having sound problems that took time to resolve. Glasper seemed to make the assumption that everyone who was there was already a fan of the group. So, none of the songs were announced. He did announce a release of a new album.

At one point, I heard the sax blaring, the drummer banging away, the bass thumping and Glasper bringing order to the chaos. The music is a convergence of jazz, hip hop and electronic. As usual I responded to the driving beat which was provided by the Derek Hodge, the bass player. I can say I really enjoyed some of the music. However, I was disappointed since I did not hear much of Elasper. He spent a lot of time at the back of the stage. Most of what I heard was Casey Benjamin. The last number was a tribute to J Dilla and on that number, they really performed.

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The next act was called Geri Allen(piano) Homecoming and featured Wallace Roney(tpt), Robert Hurst(bass), J.D. Allen(sax), Sheila Jordan(vox), Dave McMurray(sax), Karriem Riggans(drums) and George Bohanan(tbone). All these musicians call their home Detroit and are now living elsewhere. I have heard of all of them in discussions of music in Detroit and this was my opportunity to hear them. George Bohanan restored my belief that a trombone can play jazz. Tow of the number I liked were “Cedars Blues” and “Every Time We Say Goodbye”. They are extraordinary musicians and when they come back for club dates, I would go out to see them any time. The two numbers Sheila Jordan did were “Farewell” and “A Place to Stay”. The second had really funny lyrics and was a great way for me to remember Sheila.

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The last act at the same stage was called Miles Smiles. The musicians were Wallace Roney(tpt), Larry Coryell(gtr), Rick Margitza(sax), Ralphe Armstrong(bass) and Alphonse Mouzon(drums). I was a little disappointed. I think I expected Wallace to be a imitation of Miles Davis. Logically, of course, that was not going to happen. He is a musician in his own right. The sun went down and the temperature dropped precipitously and suddenly I was too cold to enjoy the music especially when the warm bodies next to left due to the cold. After my original disappointment, I did enjoy the music.

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I went home and after dinner went to a jam at the Harbor House. I spent most of my time talking to a jazz fan friend from Toronto. A good end to the festival.

Motor City Wine 2.0 – The Funhouse

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Last night, Wednesday, August 7, 2013 was my first visit to the new home of Motor City Wine located at 1949 Michigan Ave in Detroit. It was a move from downtown to the Corktown neighborhood. The new place is larger and better arranged. When I walked in,I walked into a bar area with chairs along the bar. The design arrangements around the bar in the wall are wine corks arranged in designs. The place is not carpeted like the other place. They have a nice outside patio. They were planning on having music events on the patio but some people live nearby and the noise disturbs them. They may pipe music outside later.

I didn’t have to climb up a flight of stairs at the new place. And there is a parking lot. No more looking for a place to park.

I ordered my blood orange soda and a plate that included herbed salami, asiago cheese with basil and a bowl of olives served with crackers. Within a few minutes, Charles Greene and his girlfriend came and sat with me. I’m glad I had someone to share since it was too much for me alone. The flavors I picked were bold and luckily, the crackers were bland so it was a good combination.

There is another room next to the bar and this was where the band played. The set up is better for music. It was the usual Funhouse crew of Kris Kurzawa ( gtr), Skeeto Valdez ( drums ), Takashi Iio (bass) and Phil Whitfield ( keys). For any Canadians, Phil is from South Detroit or Windsor, Ontario.

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The music is not so loud I can feel my body vibrate as it was in the first place. They have a certain distinctive style of playing and have usual favorites. Most of the favorites are compositions of the band. They did play one I hadn’t heard before called “Funky Strut” written by Phil Whitfield and I do like funky music. The funkiest number of the evening was “Do It Again” a Steely Dan cover. That one was played by Charles Greene on keys and Freeman Spells on bass. That one was really good.

I usually stay for one set but tonight I stayed for the evening. Somehow, the idea of driving in the opposite way from home and into downtown was not appealing. I considered what was available and went home after two sets.

It was an enjoyable evening. I heard good music and got to sit with people I like.