Steve Bernstein's informative liner notes give a bit of background for his latest recording and the funny name for his band. Sounding like a territory band from the 30's, but playing a mix of standards and rock and R&B hits, the trumpeter/arranger has been leading this kind of configuration for about seven years now. On MTO Volume 1, the band injects soul into every note and has created a wonderful record.
"The Boy in the Boat" harkens back to late-1920's Okeh-era Ellington, but with touches of revivalist jump bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Matt Munisteri's Freddie Green-style comping helps give it this feel. The main solo feature is lengthy and belongs to Gayton, who uses the sp-ace to construct some lyrical lines. One of the stars of this CD is Charlie Burnham, whose syrup-toned violin brings this song to a close.
The Beatles' "Cry Baby Cry" is given a heavier feel that lays on a groovy backbeat held down by Perowsky. The tenor saxophone sounds bluesy with Wieselman's clarinet and Gayton's trombone providing subtle support. We then arrive at tempo and Lawrence performs the melody, as though he wrote it, on baritone sax. Adding to the cool feel is Perowsky's rock/pop drums, and Munisteri's electric guitar, with just a hint of distortion. The song is arranged as if for a vocalist. Suddenly the bartone bursts into solo mode with Perowsky holding down the groove and Munisteri's fine R&B comping.
Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" is performed as a very slow 12/8 blues, with string bass intro and Wamble's slide guitar wailing on top. Burnham eventually joins in the bluesy conversation. Wamble is also the singer here, and his emotive voice is perfect. You've never heard the song done like this. As the verses end, Doug takes another acoustic slide solo, but after the vocals have ended with such high energy, it all comes back down to a whisper for the start of the solo, which feels a little weird. Soon, the horn ensemble arrives to back him up and the energy grows again. The ending is conducted, as the band pumps their hearts into the final fermatas.
"Happy Hour Blues" takes us back to the 20's/30's swing/Dixie feel again, this time complete with banjo and clarinet. This is contrasted immediately with lightening-fast bebop. And so the perfomance goes: right back to swing for the verse, the bridge is fast bop. We hear a great stop-time trombone solo, that segues into fast bop for Bernstein's atonal trumpet solo.
Prince's sex-filled fantasy, "Darling Nikki," starts with pizzicato violin, bass, and twangy guitar. Clarinet creeps in for this intro full of erotic mystery, and gradually the song takes shape. The melody comes along after four minutes, rendered by Steve's slide trumpet, which he reprises with plunger mute. Burnham takes hold of the melody on the way out on his wah-wah effected violin, which is buttressed by overdriven guitar. Perowsky's machine gun drum solo rocks out for the final minute. This rendition though instrumental, gets just as nasty as the original!
Munisteri starts off "Pennies from Heaven" with swing-style solo guitar. The rhythm section then turns it into a trio. and the horns join in later. Matt has his turn at the mic later on, and his voice comes off like that of John Pizzarelli, with maybe a bit more bite.
"Ripple" is in a lazy 3/4, honking horns and sweet violin setting up this bluesy cut. There is no guitar, bass or drums for the first two minutes, leaving Burnham and the guys cool and swinging. The rhythm section joins in later and this greasy, gritty number becomes even more so. The tempo drags its way down to glacial slowness, with the clarinet wailing away on the ending.
I really enjoyed listening to this CD, and it must be a blast to see the MTO live.
- Joe Knipes - excerpt --Jazz Improv - Spring 2007