Sex Mob has always been more vaudeville than Lincoln Center Jazz. But they are also, I would argue, more Ellingtonian than Wynton and his Duke-wannabes.
The far-flung outfit was started in 1998 by slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein as a vehicle for his popular culture standup jazz act. Before The Bad Plus and Brad Mehldau thought to cover pop tunes, Sex Mob was twisting the macarena and the music of Prince and Nirvana into jazz vehicles. His earlier gigs with the Lounge Lizards, Kamikaze Ground Crew, and Spanish Fly forecasted this evolution. But he also ties these "covers" to the tradition. Bernstein was the musical director/arranger for Robert Altman’s Kansas City film, and all his music can be linked to Duke Ellington’s populist traditions.
Dime Grind Palace follows the 2001 record Sex Mob Does Bond. This disc was recorded without rehearsals and plays like a rowdy road show. The core band of Bernstein, Briggan Krauss, Tony Scherr, and Kenny Wollesen is supplemented by a cast of Downtown musicians, in addition to trombone hero Roswell Rudd.
From waltzes and marching band introductions come shouting mayhem and hard grooved funk. Bernstein’s arrangements, written to bring order before the chaos, rely heavily on party grooves and warm brass (trombone and slide trumpet) feelings. When he slows things down, as on “Blue and Sentimental,” the music does not let go of its heavy grooves. Horns interlap for soul-love. Roswell Rudd takes a solo worth the price of the record itself. He seems to play as the Dime Grind dancers are cooling their heels, only to beckon them to the second set.
Briggan Krauss’ flutter is repeated over the eerie opening to “Mothra,” and yes the march to battle with Godzilla is waged with weird melodica and strange effects. Roswell Rudd’s composition “Norbert’s Weiner” fits nicely with Sex Mob’s style, the clarinet and tuba creating a strange kind of klezmer waltz.
Sex Mob beckons you to come for the show, but stay for the music. After repeated spins the novelty is overshadowed by the thrilling musicianship.
Personnel: Steven Bernstein - Slide Trumpet, Mellophone, Haitian Trumpet; Briggan Krauss - Alto Saxophone,
Baritone Saxophone; Tony Scherr - Bass; Kenny Wollesen - Drums; Roswell Rudd - Trombone,
Vacine; Peter Apfelbaum - Organ, Melodica, Tenor Saxophone; Brian Mitchel - Wurlitzer Electric
Piano; Doug Wieselman - Clarinet; Marcus Rojas - Tuba, Haitian Trumpet; David Tronzo - Slide
Guitar; Scott Robinson - Slide Saxophone, Alto Clarinet; John Kruth - Mandolin; Mark Stewart -