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Sex Mob
Dime Grind Palace
Ropeadope, 2003

    

Steven Bernstein's Sex Mob quartet has become a virtual downtown institution in the last few years. Now maintaining regular gigs at Tonic, they are the late night sound of the East Village. An irreverent and raucous blend of '30s style "hot" jazz with a free jazz bite, Sex Mob has willfully ventured where most jazz groups dare not tread. Covers of everything from the disposable pop of "The Macarena" to John Barry's James Bond theme have shown up in their repertoire. Sex Mob's greatest asset, however, has been their original tunes. This fourth album is both their first focusing almost entirely on original material and is also their most effectively produced recording to date.

While overproduction can be the kiss of death for most artists, here the collaboration is a revelation. Scotty Hard (Wu-Tang Clan, Medeski, Martin and Wood) is behind the board this time, and finally their live sound has been captured in the studio. Granted, there are electronic enhancements that one might not expect from an acoustic quartet, but what Hard does best here is exploit their deep primal groove.

Sonically, the production of Dime Grind Palace is more reminiscent of a rock album than your average jazz recording. Phat beats, dub ambience, effects-laden horn solos and brief musical interludes all add up to a more "concept" album oriented approach than most jazz artists explore on their studio recordings. In a perfect world, "cross-over" would not be regarded with suspicion; in this fantasy world, Sex Mob reign as party band supreme.

Where previous releases have found the band more dissonant and contentious, here they ease into strong melodic blues grooves while keeping up the same unflagging intensity in their solos. The tuneful context accents their biting solo statements to remarkable effect. Leader Steven Bernstein's patented slide trumpet slurs along -- sometimes digitally enhanced, sometimes not, but always grabbing your ear. Alto sax shredder Briggan Krauss has never sounded as intense as he does here, with his signature sound the sour contrast to the sweet of the main melodies. Drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Tony Scherr have finally found a sound environment that reveals the depth of their co-operative groove. Scotty Hard's production accentuates the strengths of the group rather than obscuring them with un-necessary effects and production tricks; here he's practically a fifth member.

Over a half dozen guest musicians lend their talents on various numbers. Most notable among them, however, is Roswell Rudd. The trombonist, whose career dates back to the early 1960s, was Bernstein's first inspiration for Sex Mob's sound. Having made a quantum leap from Dixieland straight to free jazz playing with Steve Lacy and Cecil Taylor, Rudd is the lineage Bernstein wanted to bring Sex Mob's tradition full circle. So it could be no more fitting than to have them together on this disc. As such, Bernstein has proclaimed this his "dream album", and it is, without a doubt, Sex Mob's finest hour.

Troy Collins

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