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The Millennial Territory Orchestra, the lovechild of leader/arranger/slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein, is back with its sophomore release, We Are MTO, a typically boisterous romp through middle-Americana. Starring the same dramatis personae as its debut, the band is an unwieldy cast of character actors, strong individualists all capable of stealing the scene on any given song.
Inspired by his researches for the film Kansas City, Bernstein continues to foment and signify on the sound of early '20s jazz with cuts like Cecil Scott's "In A Corner," The Chocolate Dandies' "Paducah" and Preston Jackson's "It's Tight Jim"; other vintage covers include the Count Basie/Lester Young classic "Dickie's Dream" and Fats Waller's "The Reefer Song (If You're a Viper)." Bernstein's arrangements include catchy horn hits, spidery solos and beefy chorale textures that make adroit use of the little-big band instrumentation. Bernstein, clarinetist Doug Wieselman and trombonist Clark Gayton are masters of the classic New Orleans-inspired tradition of simultaneous soloing, not merely imitating the style, but bringing it to life with heartfelt bravura. Equally interactive, violinist Charles Burnham and saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum speak in a more modern dialect, with a heavy accent of avant-psychedelia.
At a December 2, 2008 live gig at one of the last nights of jazz at New York's Knitting Factory, the band mixed oldies ("St. Louis Blues" and "In a Corner") with tunes representing the other side of its musical personality, an amalgam of country, soul and blues, represented by Ray Charles' "It Makes No Difference Now," "America the Beautiful" and The Band's "Jemima Surrender." Bernstein's burlesque persona and charismatic "conductions" spurred his band mates to ever greater hijinks, mixing free blowing intros with tightly swinging ensemble sections and animated improvisations.
Track Listing: We Are MTO; In a Corner; Makes No Difference; All You Need Is Love; Paducah; Dickie's Dream; Viper Song; It's Tight Jim.
Personnel: Steven Bernstein: trumpet, slide trumpet; Clark Gayton: trombone; Charles Burnham: violin; Doug Wieselman: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Peter Apfelbaum: tenor and soprano saxophones; Erik Lawrence: baritone and soprano saxophones; Matt Munisteri: guitar, vocal; Ben Allison: bass; Ben Perowsky: drums; Doug Wamble: guitar, banjo and vocal (6, 7).