The Funk Exchange
At 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, Blue Note B’s Horn Shop was closing for the day, but the front door to the little store tucked in a shopping center off Fourth Street and Keystone Avenue remained unlocked.
“I’m having technical difficulties with this horn,” said Brandon Dolph, the store’s owner, looking over a trumpet in his hands.
Luckily, his shop is a good place to address such problems. Opened in 2014, it specializes in instrument repair, rentals and music lessons. Dolph—a multi-instrumentalist who’s played since childhood—staffs the shop with repair specialists and keeps it stocked with accessories for everything from keyboards to clarinets.
After attending to his horn, Dolph put it aside on a small stage set against the shop’s wall and turned his attention to greeting the handful of people who’d trickled in.
The members of The Funk Exchange meet after hours at Blue Note B’s on Tuesdays for practice. There are eight of them in all, Dolph included. On this evening, they were rehearsing for a Feb. 24 show at the Saint in midtown.
By a quarter after the hour, all of the bandmates had assembled. At Dolph’s direction, they’d arranged themselves on the shop’s stage in basically the same placement they’ll use at the Saint. As practice commenced, the muffled sound of music lessons coming from insulated rooms at the back of the shop was drowned out, though the sound coming from the Funk Exchange remained somewhat muted, too.
Using a smartphone app and headphones, the band members had plugged into a digital mixer. It lets them control their own monitor mixes individually.
“It allows us to keep our stage volume down, so we can play tricky venues with eight players,” Dolph explained.
It also keeps their volume down during practice, when private music lessons are also underway.
The Funk Exchange has two horn players—Dolph on trumpet and saxophonist Kaleb Berg, who plays both baritone and tenor sax. Dolph also sings, and the band has a second vocalist, Sally Welch. Forest Platt plays bass. Tom Appelbaum is the band’s drummer. JC Britto and Tanner Jones play rhythm and lead guitar, respectively. And Robert Cancro plays keys and organ.
Just accommodating for space on a stage can be a challenge, but the bandmates take it in stride. Of the 1958 Hammond B3 organ he transports to shows, Cancro said, “Yeah, I move furniture around with me.”
And space is only one consideration. As Dolph pointed out, the band’s sound is big, too. It’s a mix of funk-informed rock, hip hop and jazz, over which Welch and Dolph layer their vocals—Welch’s, sweet and clear; and Dolph’s, an emphatic blitz akin to rapping. The resulting music calls to mind bands like Blood Sweat & Tears—but The Funk Exchange’s sound is decidedly more modern, and the band doesn’t deal much in covers. In fact, plans to release new originals are in works now.
It’s another reason the bandmates have been rehearsing with earphones plugged in. They’re preparing to record and release a series of live takes of their songs online.
“We’ve got one song that’s basically mixed right now, and then we’re sending it to our audio engineer for mastering here probably in the next week,” Dolph said. “We’re going to release them one at a time and then put them all together.”
It’s a measured approach, and one that reflects band’s modus operandi—from accommodating for stage space to keeping rehearsal decibels down. And it seems fitting. The key to an exchange, after all, is a bit of give and take.