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Diaspora Soul by Steven Bernstein

This guy you've likely heard, whether you know it or not. He's played his trumpet as a member of John Lurie's Lounge Lizards as well as his own mutant-jazz-noir combo Sex Mob. Bernstein is one of the few modern trumpeters this scribe has heard in years who doesn't break his neck trying to sound like Miles Davis or Freddie Hubbard. Oh, their influences are there but this Bernstein fellow remembers what his mom told him: chew your food well before you swallow and it'll digest right. He's also not afraid to let the influence of Louis Armstrong in, either that brassy yet sultry summer electrical-storm crackling sound. (And lest your only impression if any of Armstrong was some old fart kicking out a creaky version of "When The Saints Go Marching In" or such-other tired cornball stuff on The Ed Sullivan Show, I direct you to the man's recordings from the 1920s & 30s. ESPECIALLY the Hot Five & Hot Seven Recordings Armstrong exerted an impact on jazz AND pop music in his time comparable to that of Bing Crosby, Charlie Parker and Elvis Presley. And also like those gents, his influence is still felt today.)

Bernstein & Company have set up shop at a deli that could only exist in NYC, the cradle of madness. This joint specializes in Kosher food from Cuba, quesadillas from Memphis and tacos from New Orleans. His gang sax players Briggan Kraus, Michael Blake, Peter Apfelbaum and Paul Shapiro, keyboards-player Brian Mitchell, bassist Tony Scherr & percussionists E.J. Rodriquez & Robert J. Rodriguez have both funk (in the sense of earthiness and rhythm) and chops. Or, if you prefer, an exemplary grasp of the intricacies of their respective instruments what they call "technique" yet full of what the French refer to a "joie de vivre." Sacre bleu! When these cats are ON which is 90% of this disc you can practically smell the home cooking (the cooking from several homes in different neighborhoods, actually) yet stodgy old Wynton would have to give thumb-up to the musicianship.

The material, too, is too much: ancient Jewish melodies, of the kind sung by cantors and swung like mad by klezmer bands, mix and coalesce with jazz improvisations that echo Miles, Hubbard the late, great under-recognized trumpeter Booker Little, and textures that recall the Big John Patton and Larry Young Blue Note sessions. S.B.s tunes are as catchy as Christmas songs, but with none of the guilt. Funky promenades have that Willie Bobo/Ray Barretto rhythm, then they teases & tantalizes you some, to keep you guessing, keep you listening while you groove. Plus and this is a big plus, I assure you Brian Mitchell coaxes such a delicious sound from that Hammond b-3 organ of his! That big plush sound will have you order readers feeling nostalgic for your Traffic, Jimmy McGriff and Booker T & The M.G.'s albums. You hepcats in your 20s & 30s: think Medeski, Martin & Wood and Joey DeFrancesco. Diaspora Soul is a cross-cultural jazz bash, a celebration of sound that'll stimulate the head, the heart & the booty machine.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Steven Bernstein
  • CD Title: Diaspora Soul
  • Genre: Acid Jazz
  • Year Released: 1999
  • Record Label: Tzadik Records
  • Rating: Five Stars
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