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Steven Bernstein: Proud Member of the Pre-Computer Absorption Generation

By Published: November 20, 2006
AAJ: I actually think the reviews don't mention individual players on the record because the liner notes don't say who plays what on what song—so writers are afraid to say "great lead from Apfelbaum because, well, what if it was Doug Wieselman?

SB: Right. Interesting. But you know, Peter is almost like the secret weapon. I've known Peter since I was in the fifth grade. So I know these things that he's going to do that only he can do. So it's interesting, because when anybody else plays the book, there's no way that stuff's going to happen—because it's stuff that only he does. And he can't write it—but if I write something like it, he knows what to do [laughing]. So he gets this thing on the out chorus of "Soul Serenade, right at the end, and Peter's playing really sharp, really so on top of the pitch—something that no normal person who doesn't think like Peter would do, because it's so wrong. But it's also so right.

You know how you listen to The Band, and Richard Manuel's singing really sharp up there, or Rick Danko—how they would sing falsetto? Or even how the guys in the Beatles would sing falsetto. It's not in tune; John Lennon was always really sharp. Burning Spear is always really sharp. It's like this human way of playing an instrument. One of the things about this band is that everyone plays in a really human style of playing an instrument. Most of this generation of players have really developed this more literal, mechanical way of playing music, so they don't throw a lot of expression into each note. They focus more on long, more complex lines.

AAJ: They're a little Berklee-ified.

SB: Well, I don't know. It's not just Berklee, and it's not negative. It's an observation. Steve Coleman, John Coltrane, Woody Shaw. Woody Shaw's my favorite musician in the world, but he always had a lot of expression in his playing. But it was very pattern-based, and people would follow that pattern-based way of playing, but maybe not throw in as much uniqueness as Woody would. And then Steve Coleman's whole thing is very pattern-oriented, and so he has all his disciples. So there's all these people. Michael Brecker has all these disciples. Of course, you're talking about people like Michael Brecker and Steve Coleman, who have very unique sounds. But there are people who aren't that interested in that part and they just focus on these patterns. Which is fine; that's another way to play music. But the guys in my band really focus on each note. So one note comes out, and that's what it's all about.

AAJ: Well, that really makes for a band. When people do that, you have a really band-y band. Those are the special bands, and that's the way that some rock groups beat some jazz groups. They're sort of stuck with each other.

SB: I'm totally with you on that. They're bands. And again, that brings me back to Sex Mob. It's a band. It's like a rock band because of the way we relate to each other. And the thing about MTO—because of the reality of having nine people, I haven't played with the original nine since I don't even know when. There's always a sub. It always changes, man. But with Sex Mob, we really don't do with subs.

AAJ: Well, it's almost time to talk about Sex Mob. But about the MTO record: I take it that the nine songs on the MTO Volume 1 CD are just a few from a much larger book?

SB: Right. I have about fifty arrangements.

AAJ: And there was more stuff recorded that didn't make it onto this one?

SB: Yeah. We recorded two albums worth of music. We went in and just recorded for two days. So there already is another record of music ready. But I've done so many arrangements since then—since more than a year ago, when we made the record—that I kind of want to go back in the studio. I don't even need to get that many songs. There are a few new songs that I'd like to get to sort of round it out. I think you shouldn't make records any less great than you can as far as sequencing, and making it really well-rounded. So yes, I do have a whole record's worth of stuff.

AAJ: So there will be a Volume 2, but you're not worried about when.

SB: No, I never do. I've always done everything myself. No one's ever paid me to make a record, so when I have time, I just go on to the next project.

AAJ: This record can just work for you for now.

SB: I think so, man. I'll let it simmer there for a while. Maybe someone will even offer me some money to help me out. I had to pay for this first record. And it's funny—I thought this band would really get signed by a label. To me, it's pretty inside, you know? There's no noisy stuff at all, and that actually bummed out some people. "Oh man, I kind of wish you'd done more of that stuff you do live. But that doesn't always translate to CD.

AAJ: There is that tiny little section in the middle of "Happy Hour Blues.

SB: Right. There is. There's that one tiny section where it gets a little skwonkly. So anyway, I did that whole record myself. And [laughing] I wouldn't mind a little help!

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