Sexotica showcases a unique band performing in an even more unique genre. Sex Mob, New York City's best band, according to a 2000 poll, has made a name for itself with jumping live shows and pop song-full setlists. Led by trumpeter Steven Bernstein, the quartet draws on the music of exotica pioneer Martin Denny for this sultry recording.
In addition to Bernstein, Sex Mob features altoist Briggan Krauss, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen. The band turned to the production team of Good and Evil to give this record an electronically glossy Blue Series touch. Matthew Shipp's Good and Evil Sessions is probably the best record to date in Thirsty Ear's Blue Series, but Sexotica isn't far behind.
Taking a nod from the methods of jazz's founding fathers, Sex Mob made a name for itself by performing tunes penned by other musiciansubiquitously called "covers in the parlance of our times. But Sexotica doesn't exactly feature cover songs. Denny's late-'50s ensembles inspire the overall sound.
Recording for Liberty Records, Denny pioneered the "exotica genre, beginning in the late '50s and continuing on into the '60s and early '70s. His group incorporated instruments and ideas from the Pacific Rim nations as well as Africa, churning out easy listening albums that dared to be different.
One of Denny's innovations, if you can call it that, was incorporating natural sounds into his compositions. Allegedly inspired by bullfrogs croaking in a nearby pond, percussionist Augie Colon would often imitate bird calls on stage while performing with Denny in Hawaii. In Sex Mob's music, these natural sounds (electronically produced in this case) give the pieces unique depth. This music is layered, some sounds creeping in from unseen backgrounds while Bernstein's signature slide trumpet cuts through the thick.
"Pygmy Suite opens with a signature head-bopping Good and Evil groove punctuated by Bernstein's trumpet blasts and some painful skat from the bandleader. When the next piece, "Martin Denny, first oozed from my speakers, I didn't know what to think: it's legitimately unlike anything I've ever heard before. The drums are electronic in nature, but tribal in feel. The trumpet drips with sensuality. This song is as intense and sexual a tune as I've ever heard. The music just begs to be touched. The horns cry for attention.
"Luvin Blume has a bass line that pounds you in the gut over and over, while "Quiet prowls the neon-lit floors of an oh-so-cool lounge, like Björk hanging with Goldie on viagra sipping vodka. "Dick Contino's Blues has a San Francisco poets vibe, just begging for Kerouac incarnate to read from his Book of Blues.
"Kid Rock Deluxe also seems to beg for lyrics, but of a different sortBlack Thought of Roots crew-fame could easily boogie down to this Philly groove. "7 Bars closes the record with an out-of-place and unnecessary Chili Peppers-type of funk rock.
Sex Mob prides itself on keeping jazz what it was intended to bepopular music, club music, dance musicand Sexotica is all these things.
Pygmy Suite; Martin Denny; Exotique; Luvin Blume; Quiet; Oakland; Dick Contino's Blues; Kid Rock Deluxe; 7 Bars.
Steven Bernstein: slide trumpet, mellophones, vocals; Briggan Krauss: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone; Tony Scherr: acoustic bass, acoustic guitar, vocals; Kenny Wollesen: drums, percussion, bird whistles, vibraphone; Mike Dillon: tablas; Good and Evil (Danny Blume and Chris Kelly): programming hijinks.
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