Now celebrating its 20th year, Sexmob (Steven Bernstein - slide trumpet, Briggan Krauss - saxophones, Tony Scherr - bass, Kenny Wollesen - drums) continues to deconstruct familiar pop tunes with subversive impunity. Everything from Prince’s “Sign O’ the Times” to John Barry’s “Goldfinger,” the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple,” Nirvana’s “About a Girl,” the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” and ABBA’s “Fernando” is fair game for this band of musical renegades. And Bernstein is explicit about Sexmob not being a cover band. ”Covers to me means you play it exactly like the record,” he explains. “I just take songs that I feel have a great melody and do them in my style. So I’ll pick a tune and tell the guys, ‘Let’s Sexmob this!’ And I realize that's what jazz musicians have always done. That’s how Lester Young and Charlie Parker and Miles Davis got popular. They played the songs that everyone knew. And because they could recognize the song then that invited them into their style."
The fact that Bernstein exclusively plays slide trumpet in Sexmob gives the quartet an even more distinctive edge. As he puts it, “When you play the trumpet, Louis Armstrong is the king. But when I play the slide trumpet, I’m the king. It’s my voice. On trumpet, there’s no escaping Armstrong and Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Lester Bowie…all those cats. But on slide trumpet, it’s just me.”
Sexmob came together in 1996 in a weekly residency at the Knitting Factory Tap Room and in 1998 released its debut, Din of Inequity. They followed with 2000’s Solid Sender, 2001’s Sex Mob Does Bond, 2003’s Dime Grind Palace, 2006’s Sexotica, 2009’s Sex Mob Meets Medeski: Live in Willisau and 2013’s Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti: Sex Mob Plays Fellini. The group’s latest, Cultural Capital, is the first Sexmob recording to feature all Bernstein original compositions. “Some of them, like ‘Bari Si,’ ‘Step Apache’ and ‘Syrup’ are through-composed like Jelly Roll Morton pieces,” he explains. “And some like ‘4 Cents’ and ‘Street’ and are more jammy, where we take a little idea — a line or a groove — and just develop it.”
Bernstein and his Sexmob crew continue to push the envelope in delightfully subversive ways on their fiercely independent, self-produced new outing, Cultural Capital.