Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Seventeen years strong, Sexmob are a venerable New York City music institution. The band's four founding members - Steven Bernstein, Briggan Krauss, Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen - defy genre, instead replacing it with their own inimitable musical language.
It's fitting then that for their first new album since the Grammy-nominated Sexotica over six years, Sexmob would choose to re-imagine the music of Nino Rota. It was Rota's imaginative compositions that set the tone for the surrealist films of the legendary director Federico Fellini. The 13-track collection is a welcome return to form by these giants of the NYC downtown scene as they fearlessly explode musical parameters.
For Sexmob's first studio recording in eight years, leader Steven Bernstein chose to sample from five different soundtracks composed by Nino Rota for the films of Italian auteur Federico Fellini. After playing the arrangements on tour for an entire year, the core quartet, together for 17 years now, knocked out all dozen songs in a single day. This blend of slow, thoroughgoing germination and gushing creativity is mirrored within many of the individual songs of Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti, and in the arc of the disc as a whole. Rota's broad, melody-laden compositions have proven to be fertile for jazz. In the liner notes, Bernstein cites Hal Willner's brilliant Amacord Nino Rota (1980) for opening his mind to Rota. Nino Rota (2011) by accordionist Richard Galliano, with Dave Douglas and John Surman, among others, is a more recent notable example.
Personnel: Briggan Krauss (alto saxophone, baritone saxophone); Steven Bernstein (slide trumpet, alto horn); Kenny Wollesen (vibraphone, drums, congas, log drum, waterphone); Tony Scherr (electric bass).
Audio Mixer: Andy Taub.
Liner Note Author: Steven Bernstein .
Recording information: Brooklyn Recording (09/09/2012).
Arranger: Steven Bernstein .
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. ~ Thom Jurek