Monday, December 04, 2006

Steven Bernstein's Millenial Territory Orchestra - MTO, Vol. 1 (Sunnyside, 2006)

Trumpeter and composer Steven Bernstein is another eclectic musician who is at home in many different settings from the funky jazz of the Sex Mob ensemble to heavy acoustic recordings with multi-reedist Sam Rivers. This album is a larger group recording which tips its hat to the "territory bands" that toured the Midwest and southwest during the 1930's. Groups led by legends to be like Count Basie and Walter Page toured incessantly during the depression era making towns like Oklahoma City and of course Kansas City capitals of blues based swing music. Instead of taking a nostalgic or archival look back at this period, Bernstein's ensemble is thoroughly modern. On this album, the "little big band" formula is put to good effect, as the band is large enough to have many musical options available, but not too large as to lose the nimble feel. The instrumental songs are quite strong with Bernstein leading the way himself on the swinging "Happy Hour Blues." The ensemble as a whole shines on the unlikely cover of Prince's "Darling Nikki." A couple of vocal tracks are also here like the slowed down but very funky cover of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" and the not quite as successful kitschy version of "Pennies From Heaven." Fans of eclectic music should enjoy this album, because it's difficult to pigeonhole. Taking an idea from jazz's past and updating it with modern musical idea and compositions, Bernstein has hit upon a very interesting concept, one that he will hopefully continue to build on with future albums.

Send comments to: Tim