Dr. Lonnie Smith, Marva Whitney, Billy Prince, Marc Ribot & Steven Bernstein
Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra
January 6, 2011
Trumpeter Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra has so far given very few performances of its Sly & The Family Stone tribute show. This manifestation in the relatively new Littlefield club in the industrial edges of Brooklyn's Park Slope offered one of those rare opportunities, glorying in the MTO's extremely impressive all-star personnel. When it opened around a year back, Littlefield emanated the aura of a rock/electronica habitat, but in recent months several of NYC's alternative jazz promoters have been striking up regular relationships. This particular gig was a victory celebration for Search & Restore 's successful Kickstarter Project fund-raising drive. Littlefield might be not much more than a converted factory shell, but this was one of its most heated evenings, packed with a full throng, twitching along en masse to one of the city's funkiest ensembles interpreting the music of one of the globe's funkiest beings. Who else would be in the top funking five with Sly Stone? George Clinton , James Brown, Prince? Would it just be a top four? Bootsy Collins?
Adding a goodly amount of period funk was keyboardist Uri Caine, but the impressive roster also included most of the usual downtown posse: Kenny Wollesen (drums), Peter Apfelbaum, Doug Wieselman (reeds), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone) and Charlie Burnham (repeatedly attention-grabbing wah-wah violin). Many of the Stone works appeared in instrumental guise, and even when the vocalists hit the stage, there was no lack of soloing. Lead singer Dean Bowman would repeatedly come onstage, only to find that the orchestra wasn't letting up in their winding introductions. Nevertheless, he would amuse himself with what probably shouldn't be called scatting, because Bowman was intent on impersonating instruments in a more specific manner. He was prone to vibrato attacks, and could easily handle the low, low, low bass intonations required by some of the numbers. The auxiliary singer was Fiona McBain, a member of Brooklyn roots combo Olabelle whose stylings were probably too formal for the Stoned universe.
Bernstein is always a master when conducting large bands (and smaller combos too, come to think of it), completely in touch with the sheer physicality of digit-waggling as the perfect prompt for crescendos, sudden cutaways and general solo action. His conducting is a performance in itself. The orchestra was funkin' hard, and the songbook was ideal. Well, almost ideal. Call me conventional, but I felt the distinct absence of "Dance To The Music," "I Want To Take You Higher" and "Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again) ." We could probably have survived an omission of "Que Sera." Otherwise, all was mighty, hitting the heart and soles with the other certified classics "Stand," "Everyday People," "Family Affair" and "You Can Make It If You Try."