Dinner at Cliff Bells 12/19/13

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Leaded glass window at top of women’s stall at Cliff Bells

I went for some music and planned to have dinner at Cliff Bells. When I had dinner there a few months ago, it wasn’t the meal I was expecting. So, I gave it another try. I sat in my favorite place which is by a large column in the middle front of the room. The sound is good in that spot.

I sat down and a waitress took care of the couple that came in after me at a nearby table. She then checked on another table. She did not speak to me or notice me. When she came back to the first table, I tried to catch her attention and she didn’t hear me. A couple of moments later another server stopped by another table and I was able to get his attention. He seemed shocked when I ordered dinner. (About five minutes later another server stopped by the table and asked if anyone had helped me.) So, the beginning of the service was rocky.

I ordered the grilled bistro fillet with buttermilk whipped potatoes, roasted asparagus and a juniper and wine sauce for $26. I also had my club soda and lime. The drink came within minutes. Since the meal was cooked to order (or the meat was), I knew it would take a little time. The young couple at the table slightly behind me were talking. The young woman had not stopped talking since I had been sitting at the table even when the musicians were playing a few feet from us. She got louder when the music got louder. I figured I could eat my dinner during the break so I could listen to the music when the musicians started playing.

My dinner was delivered.

20131220-185028.jpgand I apologized for the dreadful picture. It had the bistro fillet done medium rare in three pieces leaning against the whipped potatoes. There were two spears of asparagus. I will say all the pieces worked well together and the flavor was great. I felt shorted with only two spears of asparagus though. The steak was juicy with a well seasoned marinade. It is not as tender as most steaks but the flavor was great. The whipped potatoes had the tang of the buttermilk but were not warm. As far as the juniper wine juice, I couldn’t taste the juniper. If I order this again, I may ask for another asparagus spear and warm mashed potatoes.

They took my plate away just as the set started. The woman at the next table was still talking and talked for the rest of the evening. I adjusted my chair to block the loud sound of her voice competing with the music.

Finally, Marcus Elliot Quartet at Cliff Bells

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Left to right: Michael Malis, Marcus Elliot! and Ben Rolston (Stephen Boegehold, not pictured)

Last Tuesday night, I finally got down to cliff Bells to see the Marcus Elliot quartet with Marcus Elliot actually playing. The last time I went there, Marcus Elliot was not there. I got a good parking spot after a little search. I felt comfortable since I was walking by the place where cops have dinner breaks and I has seen a cop car parked nearby. The smokers were hanging outside the door shivering.

The quartet was Marcus Elliot ( sax) , Michael Malis (piano), Ben Rolston ( bass) and Stephen Boegehold (drums). The service was good and I got my club soda and lime quickly. I sat right up in the front where there would be no distractions since I was not planning on staying for more than one set. As usual, none of the songs were introduced so I just was able to take in the music and not have any expectations about what I was hearing. This Is usually good since I know that asking some musicians to play a request can be problematic. If they want to play the song, all is good. But, if it isn’t their thing that night, it sometimes goes poorly. So, I like to hear what they want to play even if it does not particularly fit my mood. If I can get into the music, it doesn’t matter.

So what I can say is that the group plays cohesively. I have heard Marcus Elliot for several years now and he is constantly improving. What is especially like about the way he plays the sax is the tone. It is more like voice than an instrument. He plays with a certain character that is definitely his voice. It is so great when I can hear the voice of the musician in the music. The group is a tight group and I hear them acting as a group and not a competing set of egos. The group blends the music so when there is a solo it is part of a natural progression. The solos in this group seem to be meaningful and not so long that you forget there is a group present. All in all it was an enjoyable set.

ROOMS at Cliff Bells

Cliff Bells ROOMS

Last night, I had planned to go to Motor City Wine to see the Mike Jellick Trio. in fact, that is where I started. When I got there, it was not the Mike Jellick Trio playing. The place was very crowded with a birthday party. It was one of those scenes where getting from point a to point b only ten feet away takes five minutes and bumping at least five people. the noise level was so high, the music could not be heard. I took about two minutes to decide that I had to find another place.

I set off for Cliff Bells which was only about seven minutes away by car. The group from Chicago was called “R O O M S Trio”. They are Dan Pierson on keyboards, Charlie Kirchen on bass and Matt Carroll on drums.ROOMS

They played mostly their own compositions as far as I could tell. They did mention a CD they have. None of the songs were introduced which means that I have no reference point if I want to listen to some of the music on the website. The music was highly entertaining intellectually and I did enjoy the set. They played as a very cohesive group and the solos were played well. At first , I didn’t feel anything emotionally and thought that it was only going to be a mind rush. But, as I relaxed into the music, the barrier to an emotional connection began to fall. It never relaxed completely but I could see the possibility for the future.

Big Fun and Dinner at Cliff Bells

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Halloween night was a perfect night to go out for music. At Cliff Bells, an avant guard band called Big Fun, was playing. I thought parking would be a breeze. I was wrong. The Insane Clown Posse was at the Fillmore is about a block away. I had a choice of paying a bit for parking or walking. I drove around and found a spot about two blocks away on a busy street. I parked and walked. It was in a steady rain with gusty wind. It arrived at Cliff Bells mostly wet.

I stepped back into the 1930s as I walked into the bar. I got there before the band named Big Fun started. I sat at the bar. They have seats with a little table jutting out from the bar which provides a place to eat as well as an intimate atmosphere for couples. I hung up my wet jacket and purse on the hook under the bar. i had planned on eating since my last food experience was not good. I i wanted to see if things would better on another night. When I finally got the attention the bartender, I asked for a menu. The roast chicken sounded like something I would enjoy. It took some time to get the attention of the bartender again. He almost went into shock when I ordered the meal. I think he now saw me as a reasonable tip.

The food came out and on this rainy, windy night was the comfort food I wanted. It was described as roast chicken with herbed gnocchi, cannelloni beans, Brussels sprouts, and saffron-vanilla cream.

20131101-095455.jpgAs you can see, the picture is not great. The aroma wafting up from the plate was an invitation to eat. The rustic presentation said comfort. I first tried one of the Brussels sprouts which was a little al dente and under seasoned for me. It is a veggie I eat at home a lot from the simple steamed preparation to a more elaborate steamed then sautéed in butter preparation. It is a hard veggie for me to cook to the just the point where I like it. I took the skin off the chicken and cut a piece of chicken. It had a savory sauce on it that I would have called gravy. Was this the saffron-vanilla cream sauce? I didn’t taste either saffron or vanilla. The chicken was moist and the gravy was a marvelous and savory addition. The herbed gnocchi were very light and I added the gravy which made them even better. I am not sure why the cannelloni beans were added to the dish. They did add another texture and had a deep, complex rich flavor. All in all, it was a great meal to have on a rainy wet night.

The band, Big Fun, was introduced as a part of the Detroit Vanguard series of avant guard jazz. I am not very familiar with the subset of the jazz genre but the write up said they would be going music from the Miles Davis album called Bitches Brew and I was familiar with the album. The members of the band were, as follows: Patrick Booth on alto and tenor sax, Steve Rush on keys, Jonathan Edwards on guitar, Tim Flood on bass guitar, Jeremy Edwards on drums and Dan Piccolo on percussion. The players were never introduced by name so I have not idea who was playing trumpet.

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They did play “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” which is one of my favorites from the album. I noticed immediately that the band sounded out of balance. I do not know if this was intentional or not. The bass player was the loudest instrument and was the dominating sound. When the keys were being played at and average volume, I could barely hear them. The drum and percussion for the most part were almost not there. So, the bass was the driver and the beat for the song. This was frustrating to me because I try to listen to all the instruments together and then try to give a listen to each instrument to hear its contribution. So, that being said, the overall effect was head banging jazz. They played other songs from the album and others came off with less of a driving beat.

I was an introduction and I might have enjoyed it more if I had not been wet. I will continue to listen to Avant Guard when I have the chance. And I will still love my Straight Ahead.

Gerard Gibbs Trio at Cliff Bells

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Photo by Ren Farley, 2009

On Friday night I went out to Cliff Bells to see the Gerard Gibbs Trio. It has been a while since I have gone to Cliff Bells and it is one of the best jazz clubs. There are a couple of reasons I don’t go that often. Cliff Bells is is the Entertainment district of Detroit. It is about two blocks from the Comerica Stadium which is where the Tiger Baseball team plays home games during summer and now into autumn with the playoffs. There are also a couple of major theaters within a couple of blocks. It means paying for parking. During Tiger games it can be up to $25. On Friday night I did have to pay for parking and it was only $5 which I can pay. I could park blocks away but walking a long way at night on untraveled streets does not appeal to me.

Cliff Bells first opened in 1928 during Prohibition as a supper club with a speakeasy downstairs. The building was designed by Albert Kahn who was the major architect during that era of Detroit construction. It opened for the first time as a jazz club in 1935 and the jazz club was designed by Charles Agee. It fell on hard times and was closed in 1985. It reopened after being refurbished in 2005. The restoration is highlighted by a long bar and warmly colored wood keeping the essence of the Jazz Era. The only problem is that the redesign did not pay attention to making sure the sound was good. There are places to sit where the sound is good and I can generally find a good seat if I arrive after the first set.

20131006-102848.jpgLeft to Right: Perry Hughes on guitar, Gerard Gibbs on organ, Gene Dunlop on drums

I had a seat where I could hear the music and the people around me listened to the music rather than chatting. Cliff Bells is also a supper club and sometimes early in the evening people are there to eat dinner and use the music as background music. The music was very good as is usual for this group. This is a group of musicians that has played together for some time and has that unspoken communication that makes for a unified sound. It is such a pleasure to hear musicians who can all do great solos and play together without letting their ego overtake the harmony and balance they achieve. I can tell you, I enjoyed all of it and also that none of the songs were named so there is no way I can say what I enjoyed.