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Nate Dorward

Steven Bernstein/Millennial Territory Orchestra, We Are MTO

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My friend Captain Hate (who was on Organissimo for a bit but I haven't seen him in these parts lately...) is a big fan of trumpeter Steven Bernstein's work, so when I spotted this one on a review-copy list I was sent I gave it a try. It's a marvellous disc which has been in frequent rotation in this house for the past week. It's a 9-piece band (with guest vocalist/banjoist/guitarist Doug Wamble making it 10 on the last couple of tracks)--Peter Apfelbaum, Doug Wieselman, Ben Allison, Charles Burnham & Ben Perowsky, among others, in the band (of the familiar names--& I was also quite impressed by the guitar work of Matt Munisteri & trombonist Clark Gayton, new names to me). Aside from a rocking electric blues opener by Bernstein (wonderful fiddle intro by Burnham), the rest is covers of mostly fairly unusual repertory: some items from the 1920s and 1930s (Cecil Scott's "In a Corner", Fats Waller's "Viper Song", Preston Jackson's "It's Tight Jim", Prez's "Dickie's Dream" [stunning version!], Don Redman's "Paducah"), plus a little Ray Charles & one of the best Beatles arrangements I've come across, "All You Need Is Love". There's nothing about the arrangements that seems self-consciously clever or "postmodern"--they don't try for either authenticity or knowing updates (the Scott version is pretty straight, though Allison happily throws in some substitute changes), but they care very much for warmth of sound & for making smart connections between R&B and early jazz.

Wonderful stuff. It's dedicated, by the way, to the memory of the late Joel Dorn.

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no offense to anyone, but I've tried Bernstein's territory stuff and it just sounds too staged, too stiff, never makes it for me - hate to do it but if you want to know how this stuff should/can be done, listen to my Louis Armstrong CD - these groups always sound like they are working too hard to get it right; it needs to sound almost off-handed, rough and on the edge of sloppy - it always sounds to me like territory-band music for people who have never really listened to territory bands - like Trent, the Yellow Jackets, et al -

Edited by AllenLowe

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I enjoyed the first MTO release (which also featured Gayton) quite a bit, so thanks for the heads-up on this one, Nate. There were a couple of period tracks, as well as more contemporary material (Cry Baby Cry, Darling Nikki, Ripple, Signed Sealed Delivered).

I also like Bernstein's Diaspora series, as well as the Sex Mob stuff. He makes both interesting and fun music.

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Hm, figured that Allen'd weigh in on this one :) -- Well, no, it's not rough-edged & sloppy but in many ways I feel like that would be an affectation for this group of musicians; they don't sound like they're only concerned about getting it right, which is for me where "stiffness" would set in. (Actually, I've heard plenty of sloppy performances that sound oddly "stiff" at the same time...!)

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don't get me wrong, these are fine musicians. But because this music is so much of its time, one has to find a way to deal with that stylistic distance - it has a lot to do with context, how the rhythm section handles itself, because the rest of the band will respond to that. I'm thinking a lot about these issues these days as I work on my blues book. I'm also planning on doing another recording maybe next year of all-blues or blues-related material. But I hear the musical solution from time to time, if mostly in my head. It has to do with free-jazz principles, but only as they are very tightly tethered to form. But to make it "right," one has to play this music with a certain unconscious sonic emphasis, if that makes any sense. Solos, I think, should be short and to the point while still feeling "free." Also, contemporary recording techniques don't help, the separation of instruments, even as they are remixed together, works against the kind of loose ensemble feel that makes this music so satisfying to hear when played right -

Archie Shepp can do this right, but he's one of the few -

Edited by AllenLowe

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I like Bernstein & Allen's Armstrong CD.

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Whatever happened to the law of the excluded middle? :)

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I saw the group last month and enjoyed them quite a bit. At least live, they didn't seem to be slavishly recreating or trying too hard. I get Allen's points about a relaxed, casual feel, and they seemed to have that at the concert I went to. They were not the reason I went to the concert, so no bias on my part there.

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Whatever happened to the law of the excluded middle? :)

:lol:

Here's an hour long concert recording of MTO for anyone interested

npr jazz

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just listened - yikes, sorry, but on the Viper piece, they sound like a parody of a bad stripper band - and a TERRIBLE singer who sounds like a bad parody, as well -

look, you need to listen to the originals - try the original Alfonso Trent Band; the Missourians; Charlie Johnson; Jeanette's Syncopaters; the Bennie Moten Band; the 1929-1930 Chicagoans (Benny G, Teschmacher, Bud Freeman, Joe Sullivan, Krupa) - also, the Yellow Jackets - Bernstein's guys add nothing to the music, they don;t show an interesting perspective, it's musically tired stuff - would rather hear the originals - no better than Lincoln Center's bebop revival -

Bernstein's guys sound a little like Chadbourne, in the way that they act as though they are somehow superior to the material, they play it with too much distance, musical irony, which I find tired and condescending -

sorry, but I really hate this stuff -

much better, on Pennies From Heaven, but it still sounds like a revival band, which, for me, is a problem - and that DAMNED SINGER - (must kidnap her immediately and have her vocal cords removed - yes, extreme measures, but as Karl Hess said, "extremism in the defense of music is no vice.")

too much "good time" crap - they are working way too hard - string of solos as usual - same old stuff -

is it only me or does anybody else find this music offensive?

Edited by AllenLowe

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Whatever happened to the law of the excluded middle? :)

:lol:

Here's an hour long concert recording of MTO for anyone interested

npr jazz

Thanks for the link. Interesting to hear once or maybe see live, but I don't think I'd want to hear it again.

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just listened - yikes, sorry, but on the Viper piece, they sound like a parody of a bad stripper band - and a TERRIBLE singer who sounds like a bad parody, as well -

look, you need to listen to the originals - try the original Alfonso Trent Band; the Missourians; Charlie Johnson; Jeanette's Syncopaters; the Bennie Moten Band; the 1929-1930 Chicagoans (Benny G, Teschmacher, Bud Freeman, Joe Sullivan, Krupa) - also, the Yellow Jackets - Bernstein's guys add nothing to the music, they don;t show an interesting perspective, it's musically tired stuff - would rather hear the originals - no better than Lincoln Center's bebop revival -

Bernstein's guys sound a little like Chadbourne, in the way that they act as though they are somehow superior to the material, they play it with too much distance, musical irony, which I find tired and condescending -

sorry, but I really hate this stuff -

much better, on Pennies From Heaven, but it still sounds like a revival band, which, for me, is a problem - and that DAMNED SINGER - (must kidnap her immediately and have her vocal cords removed - yes, extreme measures, but as Karl Hess said, "extremism in the defense of music is no vice.")

too much "good time" crap - they are working way too hard - string of solos as usual - same old stuff -

is it only me or does anybody else find this music offensive?

Your right!! nothing outstanding here at all......sounds rather rote and mundane to me.......I would really hate this alot if I would have plunked down money for a CD of this stuff based on someone elses recommendation. Total waste of time. A going through the motions kind of musical experience.

Edited by bigbandrecord

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I also like Bernstein's Diaspora series, as well as the Sex Mob stuff. He makes both interesting and fun music.

I find this the most enjoyable of his music as well although I pretty much like anything he gets involved with (as Nate noted), including the Kamikaze Ground Crew. I saw him at Tzadik-fest at the Tonic in October 2001 with his Diaspora Soul group and I don't think I've had as much pure fun at a concert for a long time. As good as the disc is, he drove the musicians so damn hard that night that it took things to a whole 'nother level. Sex Mob had a regular Friday night midnight gig at the Knitting Factory for a long time where they really honed their chops.

Although obviously he's not for everybody.

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Captain, I don't know if you've seen my posts re: Fight The Big Bull, but Steven Bernstein arrived in Richmond this evening and they are about to go into their first rehearsal together. He has brought some new compositions for the band, and Matt White has also written new material for the band with Steven Bernstein specifically in mind.

They will be performing as a group on Friday and Saturday night this weekend, and are recording an album together beginning on Saturday afternoon.

I have to admit that I have never heard Bernstein play, but I am really looking forward to this weekend.

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I haven't heard the group but it has the potential to be very very good. Please provide feedback on how the weekend goes.

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Since you are taking Steven Bernstein; I don't know where I even came across this but I put it on my list of things to look into. Anyone know Tatoos And Mushrooms (Ilk 150) by Bernstein, Marcus Rojas, Kresten Osgood? Odd combination, trumpet, tuba and drums I think.

Hopefully this isn't too far afield of the topic.

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Fun record. The band reminds me of the Microscopic Quintet in spirit. The Viper Song is a good one for Fat Tuesday.

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