By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
"Mmmm, these truffled collards are delish," she moans, as if in heat. "And the salmon on top of them is so yummy, I'm ready to bone the chef."
"Keep your sweaty paws off chef Cullen Campbell," I warn, referring to the culinary wizard responsible for the delicacies we're downin' at The Loft in Tempe on this fine Friday night. "I wanna try the Krispy Kreme bread pudding mentioned on his menu before you rape him."
"Look what the kitchen just sent out, Kreme," squeals the J-Unit, as the waitress hands us some champagne flutes and a little flowerpot filled with French fries. "Pommes frites and bubbles! I'm going to go thank Cullen."
Before I chase the Jettster into the back and save the twentysomething Campbell from some dreaded social disease, I should explain that we're in the midst of this funktified Friday night called StraightNoChaser (www.snc-az.com), named after the famous album of the same name by jazz great Thelonious Monk. Think of it as a sophisticated, urban downtown sort of eve, jumpin' off in The Loft, just west of Mill on Fifth Street -- though the address actually reads 420 South Mill Avenue -- a dope number if you've got a bong collection.
That's right, Mill, y'all. The stretch better known for clubs that blast Limp Bizkit and smell like warm co-ed puke. "Welcome to the Valley of the Lame," the signs should read. But promoter Joe DiPadova is attempting to change all that, bringing live music to Mill, and mixing it with live art, killer DJs, wine-tastings and a resident chef for the evening -- the new object of Jett's lust, who whips up a special menu every week like a mix-master spinning a scrumptious set.
"It's a concept I developed to include all the things I love -- food, wine, music," explained DiPadova before the Jettster and I began gobblin' and guzzlin'. "It's a different concept for Mill. Generally, people who hang out on Mill don't like to come in here. And yet there are a lot of people who like going to other diverse things elsewhere who are starting to find out about us. We have live jazz bands, live funk bands, DJs and all that. But the vibe is always the same: chill, kick back. Cullen's the night's chef, but we want to bring in guest chefs, too, eventually."
DiPadova's a tall, slightly scruffy dood who's always rockin' an "I ♥ Phoenix" tee, and thrives on orchestrating an eclectic sort of synergy in da club. In fact, at the moment I'm runnin' after Jett into the cocina, the bar is jammed downstairs with a passel of fly folks groovin' on this super-fly funk-soul-rock sextet called Calumet (www.calumetmusic.com), a local group that migrated to the PHX from Calumet City, Illinois, outside of Chi-town. They're playing original stuff, and I haven't heard bass and vocals this thick and thumpin' since George Clinton and Bootsy Collins were flyin' the P-Funk mothership. But back to Calumet in a moment. Right now, I have to pull the Jettster off the house hash-slinger.
I rush past the swinging doors into a claustrophobic kitchen, and there's the J-girl, rubbin' up on the poor fella as he's trying to prepare another plate of braised beef short ribs with Brie cheese grits. I'm not sure which Jett's gonna pounce on first, the food or the foodie.
"I'd love to taste your beef," she's tellin' him. "And kiss your grits while I'm at it."
"At long last, have you no shame, you Jett-zabel -- wait a sec, did you say grits?" I ask.
"That's correct," says Campbell, answering for my slutty sidekick. "I'm from Tennessee originally, and I'm trying to develop this idea that's new to this area of traditional Southern cooking mixed with traditional French cooking. That's why I did the salmon dish with braised collard greens, bacon, a little truffle, and a brown sugar tomato broth. And the short ribs with the grits."
"Why, we're practically related!" I exclaim, putting my arm around this maestro of munchies. "I was wondering about that Krispy Kreme bread pudding. Only someone from down South would dream that one up. You know, they started out in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, not far from where I'm from. And of course, it's the source of my nom de par-tay."
"Yeah, I used about two dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts to make one pan of bread pudding," relates Campbell, who used to be the chef at House of Tricks and now does the pizza thing over at La Grande Orange. "That's why I like doing this night. It's a chance to do something on my own and be more creative, which is really nice."
I haul the Jettster back outside, where Campbell brings us a slice of his bread pudding drizzled with a chocolate coffee sauce. I'm in fat-boy heaven, and tell Campbell as much before he heads back into the kitchen. Calumet has finished its set and is breaking down its equipment as the DJs for the night, resident DJ Brazilia and this L.A. DJ Jeremy Sole (www.musaics.com), fire it up. They take turns, dropping some Brazilian tracks, roller boogie, rare groove, Afrobeat, and about a dozen more styles of music besides. It takes a sec for the transition to kick in, but then people are feelin' it.
After a while, I notice a couple of familiar faces in the mix. Painter Banding Hendrix, whom we met over at RedMonkey (< href="/issues/2005-09-15/news/inferno.html">"SuperMix Saturday," September 15), is working on a canvas downstairs next to the stage, while this other artist Breeze Marcus is working upstairs in the "loft" section of the nightclub. And at some point, I see our old pal DJ Seduce from "P.A.I.N.T." at Paper Heart. Seems DJ Sole is in town to do a gig with Seduce on a different night, but he also decided to drop by StraightNoChaser and spin a bit.
Finally, Calumet's finished packing and we get to kick it with E.T. Mobley, the group's lead vocalist and guiding light, who also plays keyboards and rhythm guitar. We take note of the playa's steez, stylin' in shades and a white shirt, and sippin' on a glass of Hen. So naturally the Jettster has to flirt 'til it hurts as we conversate with him.
"Hennessey?" wonders the Jettster, sniffing his snifter. "Now, that's a man's drink. I hear it puts hair on your chest."
"It certainly put hair on Jett's," I crack. The J-girl shoots me a dirty look as Mobley replies.
"I was actually a little nervous coming over here to talk to you, but this is starting to loosen me up," he says, smiling.
"Why do they call you E.T.?" queries the J-unit.
"The old bass player we had in the band decided to name me E.T. because he thought I was an extraterrestrial music lover," replies the suave soul man. "It just kinda stuck over the years."
"You guys sounded really tight up there," I state. "What was that keyboard you were vibin' on, if you don't mind me asking?"
"That was a Fender Rhodes, and usually, I have a clavinet out there with me, too. The clavinet is straight out of the '70s. It's something Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, and all those guys used to play," Mobley schools us.
"Do you play a lot of places in town?" I inquire.
"Well, we're trying to be kind of picky about where we're playing right now," says the cat from Calumet. "We're getting ready to go to L.A. in January to record an album, go on tour and try to become a national act. We definitely want to expand beyond Phoenix."
"You need to ask the Kreme-Filled One here about that," says Jett, patting my paunch. "He's an expert in expanding, especially when it comes to the elastic in his Underoos."
I consider introducing Jett to the back of my hand, but figure that wouldn't be polite in front of Mobley. We move on to snag some more drinks from the bar where owners Mike and Brandon are tending. That's when we bump into this brunette cutie Melissa Laine, who shares that she's also a DJ and has spun at different venues in town. Jett excuses herself to visit the squirt-box, so I confabulate with Miss Melissa for a minute.
"Looks like you have a cool job," says Melissa, nodding her head knowingly after Jett's bobbing form.
"What, me and her? Alas, there are no fringe benefits to our relationship. It's purely professional," I confess.
"Well, at least you get to look," she murmurs.
"So do you like to look at women, too?" I venture.
"Sure do," she replies. "I guess I'm in a good town for that. There are a lot of hot women out here."
"I tend to notice that all the cool people in this town tend to be either gay or bisexual . . . ," I suggest, not wanting to insult her, not yet knowing her preference.
"I'm bisexual," she admits. "But I know what you mean. It's getting that way. For a while, all these girls were just hooking up with other girls to turn their boyfriends on. Now it's like, 'Hey, I think I like that.'"
"What do you look for in a chick?" I wonder.
"Great boobs and great conversation," my new bi-buddy says. "Otherwise, I might make out with her, but I won't do anything else. If she has no brain at all, it's just irritating."
"Hey, guys, did I miss anything?" quizzes the J-unit, back from the bog.
I glance at Jett, then Laine: "You know, Melissa, all of a sudden, I couldn't agree with you more."