Millennial Territory Orchestra
Tearing into witty and funky new arrangements of rarefied jazz nuggets from the 1920s and ‘30s, as well as radically transforming songs by artists such as Prince, The Grateful Dead and The Beatles, Steven Bernstein (Grammy-nominated composer/trumpeter) leads an improvisational nine-piece outfit playing irreverent 21st-century jazz.
Hailed as one of New York City’s most legendary little big bands, Bernstein’s MTO is consistently praised for uniting sexy grooves spanning a century of music—from Don Redman to Sly Stone to the present—with daring jazz abandon.
Most recently, Steven Bernstein’s MTO released a four album series dubbed “Community Music”. Few artists have the audacity to undertake recording and releasing four albums in the time it takes the earth to circle the sun, but that said, few artists are Steven Bernstein. He and his closest musical compatriots from MTO, as well as friends like John Medeski, Catherine Russell and Arturo O’Farrill, offered both original compositions and new arrangements of material ranging from Duke Ellington to George Harrison, Charles Mingus to Louis Armstrong, Allen Toussaint to Earl King. Taking the lessons he’d learned working with legends like Levon Helm, Hal Willner, Henry Butler, Lou Reed and Roswell Rudd, Bernstein proves why he’s considered one of the most unique voices in both modern jazz and creative music across the board.
"...exquisite, with just the right mix of polish and irreverence."
“This music grooves on multiple levels.”
"...the euphoric energy of the pre-Big Band-era territory jazz ensembles with the audacity of Downtown music and the memorable melodies of pop.”
- Something Else!
"The Hard Way is at once an exercise in humility on the part of the Sexmob and homage to its likeminded sonic savant.”
- Glide Magazine
"....this might be their weirdest and wildest album yet"
- Downbeat, 2023 review of SexMob's The Hard Way
Click here for an amazing WFMU interview covering the entirety of his career.
- Multiple Poll Winner (Downbeat / Jazz Journalist Assoc.)
- Grammy Nominee (Sexmob)
- Trumpeter/arranger on multiple Grammy winning albums (Levon Helm, Bill Frisell, Elvis Costello)
- Released more than 25 albums as a bandleader
- 30 years touring as a bandleader, including performances at Newport Jazz Festival, Bonnaroo, Kennedy Center, Chicago Jazz Festival, NorthSea Jazz Festival, Playboy Jazz Festival, NOLA Jazz & Heritage Festival
- Musical director/trumpeter on 25 years of Hal Willner Projects (incl. films Robert Altman’s "Kansas City", Leonard Cohen “I'm Your Man”, Bill Withers “Still Bill”, Lou Reed’s “Berlin” and U2 Live at The Apollo)
- PBS Great Performances “Live At The Ryman” with Levon Helm Band and Little Feat
- Music has been choreographed by Twyla Tharpe, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Body Vox, etc.
Still thriving and evolving 27 years after its founding, the visionary quartet Sexmob continues to explode all preconceived notions of what an instrumental jazz band can be. Emerging from the Knitting Factory scene of the mid-’90s, slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein, alto/baritone saxophonist Briggan Krauss, upright/electric bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen have changed the game with their raw, improvisatory groove and swing, endlessly inventive arrangements and uproarious sense of fun, exhibiting high musical standards while blithely blowing past all rigid boundaries of genre and taste. From their 1998 debut “Din of Inequity” onward, they’ve formed one of the truly enduring and substantive artistic bonds of their time, a quartet chemistry (often plus guests) that retains every bit of its freshness and capacity for surprise. “At this point,” declared NPR First Listen, “Sexmob is a collective ideal.”
A Sexmob gig does not have a setlist. A song doesn’t simply start and then end, followed by applause. “That’s never happened once in 25 years,” Bernstein declares. Instead, loyal fans come out to hear a band embracing perpetual risk, following the tradition of the late Don Cherry, whose idea of musical collage and “endless beginnings” remains the highest principle.
Similarly, Sexmob does not “cover” songs: as Bernstein has said, they “Sexmob” them. On “Din of Inequity” it was Prince, Leadbelly, Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, The Cardigans, “Macarena” and more. On “Solid Sender” (1999) it was Nirvana, the Stones, the Dead, ABBA, more Ellington — but as on the first album, Bernstein originals in the mix as well. With “Theatre & Dance” (2000, also featuring Jim Black on drums) came a sustained look at Ellington’s dance commissions, and with “Sex Mob Does Bond” (2001) came the film music of John Barry (and Bernstein’s original riposte “Dr. Yes”).
In essence, Bernstein and friends do what jazz musicians have done from the start, playing popular songs in their own transformative way. And in the process they’ve broken ground regarding form and structure, arrangement and re-composition (areas in which Bernstein has achieved distinction apart from Sexmob). “Jazz was louder than any music of its time; it was played on a more psychedelic plane than the average vaudeville or minstrel song,” Bernstein once told journalist Ted Panken. “That’s what I’m trying to do with Sex Mob.”
Even the band’s album cover design and imagery were a cut above: true no doubt in the case of “Dime Grind Palace”, Sexmob’s 2003 Ropeadope outing featuring the late, great trombonist Roswell Rudd, along with Peter Apfelbaum and Doug Wieselman, Bernstein’s colleagues from the Millennial Territory Orchestra (which Bernstein launched in 1999). Scott Harding, a.k.a. Scotty Hard, put his indelible production stamp on “Dime Grind Palace”, as he’d done on “Din of Inequity”, “Solid Sender” and “Sex Mob Does Bond”.
Years later Harding and the band reunited, in a new collaborative framework resulting in “The Hard Way”, an album that skews decisively electronic, released in May 2023. Wollesen plays both acoustic and electric drums as the band delves deep into Harding’s electronic beats and soundscapes, reinventing them in the process. Pianist/composer and MacArthur Fellow Vijay Iyer guests on “You Can Take a Myth,” sprinkling stark sustained treble tones and abstract harmonies on top of fat processed bass from Scherr as the composition unfolds. John Medeski (of Medeski Martin & Wood) underlays organ chords and blues phraseology to perfection on “Banacek” and works atmospheric magic with mellotron, counterposing Harding’s evocative balafon samples, on “Planeta.”
In every methodological context, the Sexmob aesthetic remains uninhibited and true. For Thirsty Ear’s innovative Blue Series in 2006, the band recorded “Sexotica”, a reimagining of Martin Denny’s Exotica genre with extensive post-production work by Danny Blume and Chris Castagno (the studio team known as GoodandEvil). Also on Thirsty Ear is “Sex Mob Meets Medeski: Live in Willisau 2006”, featuring the organ master in an expansive romp through beloved Sexmob repertoire. In 2013 the core Sexmob quartet returned once again to the movies with “Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti (Sexmob Plays Fellini: The Music of Nino Rota)”, and in 2017 they issued “Cultural Capital”, the first Sexmob release consisting entirely of Bernstein originals. “Like the best movies,” said KNKX’s Abe Beeson of Cultural Capital, “there’s humor, intrigue, confusion, sorrow, passion, and the always present loose groove.”
With each offering, and certainly with “The Hard Way” and its rich electro-acoustic groove canvas, Bernstein and crew evince a modernizing impulse but also an equally strong foundation in the roots of jazz and American song. Their immersion in a wide range of contemporary music is consistent with Bernstein’s own chameleonic experience alongside Lou Reed, Levon Helm, Hal Willner, Sam Rivers, Bernie Worrell, Henry Butler, U2, Little Feat and a host of other legends. Funky, bluesy, with a tattered dissonance conjured up by Krauss’ throaty saxophone tone and marked by the distinctive wail of Bernstein’s rare horn, Sexmob continues to chart new paths in 21st-century creative music.