Sexmob Plays Fellini: The Music of Nino Rota:
Sex Mob began merely as a setting to feature the slide trumpet of leader Steven Bernstein, but has grown into a band with a much larger mission: to put the fun back in jazz music. After assembling the band (Bernstein, slide trumpet; Briggan Krauss, alto sax; Tony Scherr, bass; Kenny Wollesen, drums), Sex Mob began a residency at the Knitting Factory, playing predominantly originals written by Bernstein. During a special evening of film music, the crowd went crazy for the “James Bond Theme,” and Bernstein realized that the audience was much more attuned to their playing when they recognized the tune. The band started to expand their songbook, but not to the same old, tired jazz standards. Songs by Prince, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, and even the “Macarena” could find their way into a Sex Mob set, the only rule being that the song had to have such a strong melody that it could withstand serious deconstruction. Bernstein said in Jazz Asylum, “I realize that’s what jazz musicians have always done. That’s how Lester Young got popular; it’s how Charlie Parker got popular; it’s how Miles Davis got popular; that’s how John Coltrane got popular. They played the songs that everyone knew and because they could recognize the song, then that invited them into their style.”
Word of mouth began to spread about their live shows, with Bernstein’s on-stage antics and the band’s amazing musicianship as the focal points. Bernstein is one of the more active bandleaders out there, constantly dictating arrangements to the other musicians, and letting them have it when they don’t deliver what he wants. They never rehearse and they never have a set list, which keeps things constantly fresh. Their weekly gigs eventually got them voted as New York City’s best band in 2000.
Sex Mob’s 1998 debut, Din of Inequity, was the only release of a short-lived agreement between Knitting Factory Records and Columbia Jazz. Augmented by two guitarists (Adam Levy and London McDaniels) and keyboard powerhouse John Medeski, Sex Mob romped through a program mostly of covers and a handful of Bernstein originals. 2000 saw the release of Solid Sender on Knitting Factory, as well as the self-released Theatre & Dance. Solid Sender is another mix of covers (Nirvana, Rolling Stones, ABBA) mixed with more Bernstein originals, some of which serve as short bridges between tunes. Solid Sender also uses a wider variety of guests, including DJ Logic and a string trio featuring Charles Burnham. Theatre & Dance is split between Duke Ellington compositions commissioned by choreographer Donald Byrd for a dance entitled “In a Different Light: Duke Ellington,” and Bernstein originals written for a revival of the 1926 Mae West play “Sex.”
2001 brought a change in label, from Knitting Factory to Ropeadope, and an album with a less kaleidoscopic selection of songs. Sex Mob Does Bond has the Mob (again with John Medeski) burning through the John Barry songbook, covering a host of tunes written for the first five James Bond movies. For 2003’s Dime Grind Palace, Sex Mob focused on Bernstein originals with a myriad guests including trombonist Roswell Rudd. 2006’s Sexotica on Thirsty Ear was a homage to the soundscapes of Martin Denny, and received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Album
Steven Bernstein sums up the Sex Mob ethos like this: “Jazz used to be popular music. People would go out to clubs, listen to the music, go home, and get laid. Simple as that. We’re bringing that spirit back.” ~ Sean Westergaard, All Music Guide