Sex Mob

Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti: Sexmob Plays Fellini

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In his liner notes, trumpeter and Sex Mob boss Steven Bernstein states: "I thought I would never make another Sex Mob album..." The band had not recorded in a studio since 2005, but had toured in Europe while playing occasional U.S. shows since then. At the behest of concert promoters in Europe asking for a new program from the band, and the passing of Levon Helm (Bernstein was a member of his band for eight years), a sense of urgency compelled him to finish arranging some Nino Rota material he had begun years earlier. In so many ways, this album of Rota's music from Federico Fellini's films is a perfect vehicle for this band. Most of it was recorded and overdubbed in a day. While certain themes such as "Amacord," "La Dolce Vita," "I Vitelloni," and "La Strada" are immediately recognizable, they are, as any Sex Mob enthusiast might expect, not played overly reverentially. Instead, trumpeter Bernstein and his compatriots -- saxophonist Briggan Krauss, bassist Tony Scherr, and drummer/vibraphonist/percussionist Kenny Wollesen -- take the same liberties with Rota's compositions that Fellini took with his scripts. Arrangements leave room for engaged, lively, and often humorous interplay, while never taking Rota's sophistication for granted. One can really hear this in cues such as "Il Teatrino Delle Suore" (from Juliet of the Spirits), where Wollesen's spirited brushes on the snare usher in Krauss' tenor solo as Bernstein (on his hybrid slide trumpet) states the lyric theme slowly and purposefully in the backdrop, elongating tones and chord changes. Scherr's bassline repetitively states a rhythmic pattern even as the horns pick up in intensity, giving the tune a post-bop feel. The dubwise electric bass and drums that introduce "Zamparo" (La Strada), offer Krauss room for a bluesy intro as Bernstein blows sputtering bursts of air through his horn before entering into his own take on the melody. Krauss, on baritone, joins Scherr in a rhythmic pulse. Things get wild and woolly on "The Grand Hotel" (Amacord), where the punk rock, klezmer, and Italian wedding music all slam into one another before the tune gives way to a haunting, spacious meditation on Rota's harmonic statement; the track features gorgeous percussion work by Wollesen. Cinema, Circus, & Spaghetti is a righteous, fun, and wonderfully considered interpretation of Rota's Fellini themes, and a welcome return to the recording scene for Sex Mob.

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