Jazz is fun again. Yes, in the hands of a showman like Steven Bernstein it can be a ball. Whether he is fronting his band Sexmob, playing sideman to Bobby Previte, or arranging tracks for Mario Pavone, he means to entertain us. And entertainment as in "that's show biz folks."
Maybe it was his early work with John Lurie's Lounge Lizards or his experience researching regional jazz bands as the musical director for Robert Altman's film Kansas City (1996) that turned him into a showman. He may have a love of cartoons from the 1930s and '40s, since they combined showmanship and physical comedy with the good feeling jazz of the times. Whatever it may be, his reverence for the irreverent will probably never get him into Lincoln Center. And that's just fine.
His Millennial Territory Orchestra is a nine-piece small band that reinvents the glory days of traveling jazz showmen playing an assortment of danceable blues and jazz. We re MTO is a follow up to MTO Volume 1 (Sunnyside, 2006).
MTO's music can travel back to the day, like its cover of the McKinney Cotton Picker's "Paducah," with all its slowly drawn out blues. But the year is 2008 not 1928, and the fidelity of the recording is much better. It's surprisingly authentic. MTO loves the tradition, and that's clear on its covers of the marijuana smoking "Viper Song" and Cecil Scott's "In A Corner," from 1929.
This is not your grandpa's jazz. That is, unless your pappy is one hip mother-jazzer. The MTO squeezes the grease out of the title tune (the only Bernstein original here), playing a funky sounding cousin to Billy Joe MacAllister's ode. Bernstein's music might be about the olden times but it never sounds old timey.
Doug Wieselman's clarinet transports The Beatles' classic "All You Need Is Love" from 1967 to some timeless Guy Lombardo dance and back again to 2008. Sure the sound is retro, but guitarists Doug Wamble and Matt Munisteri tear their unamplified guitars up on "Dickies Dream," the Count Basie classic. The disc ends with the scattered bass solo intro into "Its Tight Jim," a Chicago-via-New Orleans classic, played with just the right Bernstein twist.
We Are MTO; In a Corner; Makes No Difference; All You Need Is Love; Paducah; Dickies Dream; Viper Song; Its Tight Jim.
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).
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