Besides his stature within New York City's enigmatic downtown scene, trumpeter Steven Bernstein's varied resume includes writing and performances with rock and pop legends. Therefore, he possesses an insider and outsider type view, also evidenced by his leadership with the band Sex Mob, known for nicely twisted, reconstructed, and off-kilter covers of famous rock and pop tunes. Here, Bernstein and a large ensemble, including re-mix master Bill Laswell, keyboardist Bernie Worrell and guitarist Vernon Reid loom as vital cogs in the wheel of success, extended across the music of pop-funk icon Sly Stone.
Sly and The Family Stone was a hit machine back in the 1970s. However, his unique alignment of R&B, pop, and jazzy horns atop what could be the origins of pop-rock funk, offered a new paradigm that spawned a massive influence across musical borders, including jazz legend Miles Davis. Bernstein enlists several vocalists throughout the program and while adhering to the core compositional structures, this presentation offers a contemporary hue, shaded with polytonal treatments and subtle nods to manifold genres.
The NYC downtown vibe is conveyed along with pulsating back beats, blaring horns charts, and ethereal instances, cascaded with streaming notes and a few oddball movements that transcend these covers above common interpretations. With flair and a little flamboyance tossed into the schema, the artists' attain an uncanny assemblage that in theory, is conducive for radio airplay, but should also satisfy the appetites for the forward-thinking jazz crowd.
MTO's rendition of "Everyday People" serves as a fitting example of its divergent stylizations. Commencing with an Eastern ritual type vibe and Shilpa Ray's droning vocal chants; this pop tune takes on a divine outlook. However, they fuse the mystical element into the familiar melody line, driven by a steady rock motif and interweaving horns and strings. But they gradually pick up steam, accelerated by Ray's raspy intonations and spirited lyricism. Then everything comes to a head as they advance the musical components into a cheery and rousing fête.
Bernstein's musicality and focus parlays into the musicians' synergistic performances. By no means a rehash of Sly's songbook, it's more about a visionary process that opaquely merges rock classicism with the zeal and energy of current musical times. It's a freshly invigorating ode to grandmaster Sly, who made a huge imprint on the musical world in such a short span of time.