Trumpeter, slide-trumpeter, arranger and composer, Steven Bernstein, is most famous for his band Sex Mob, with the Millennial Territory Orchestra being another of his musical aggregations. Its a spirited big little band with nine members (Doug Wamble guests on guitar and banjo on two tracks), which mixes a variety of influences, hot swing, New Orleans brass with some modernistic tinges. Their new recording, “We Are MTO” (MOWO), displays the fascinating mix of old and new sounds.
The disc opens with the dirge-like, swampy rhythm of the title track with the violin of Charles Burnham’s violin setting the mood before the trio of reeds state the melody that hints at “Stormy Weather followed by the exuberance of “in the Corner,” a slightly surreal take of a Charleston styled number with Clark Gayton’s tailgating trombone soloing over the riffing reeds. An old Floyd Tillman & Jimmie Davis country song “It Makes No Difference” (recorded by Ernest Tubb, Ray Charles and others) is given a blues-tinged reworking with Matt Munisteri’s single note guitar runs with Gayton’s trombone providing the bass bottom while Burnham’s violin provides a running musical commentary with a New Orleans brass tinge added. It is followed by a similarly original reinvention of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” which opens with Burnham’s violin before the Doug Wieselman states the melody on his clarinet with Bernstein’s imaginative orchestration of the other horns and Burnham’s violin in the back ground (and the brass providing a further contrast in musical colors). MTO opens Don Redman’s “Paducah,” with some free-jazz sounding riffing before Wieselman takes center-stage against moaning horns followed by Bernstein’s open trumpet backed against more stately horn riffs, before bassist Ben Allison takes a bass solo where he walks the bass with some slapping of the bass mixed in. The two guitars of Munisteri and Doug Wamble, and the slightly frantic tempo, give Dickie’s Dream,” a distinctive and rollicking flavor, with perhaps the highpoint being Erik Lawrence’s baritone sax solo. The two guitarists share a vocal duet on Fats Waller’s “Viper Song,” with its lazy tempo as Bernstein’s imaginative arrangements again add spice behind the vocals and solos as different instrumentalists come in to provide the main accompaniment behind the vocals. The final number is Preston Jackson’s “It’s Tight Jim,” again having varying tempos and contrasting musical settings with the accompaniments, ending this kaleidoscope of sounds on an a mesmerizing note.
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