Reviews that mention Steven Bernstein

December 13, 2021

Joe Fiedler Open Sesame

Fuzzy and Blue
Multiphonics Music MM 006

Michael Vlatkovich

With You Jazz Cat

pfMentum PFMCD 142

They both may have toy-like fuzzy creatures pictured on their CD covers and be small bands led by American trombonists, but that’s where the resemblance between Fuzzy and Blue and With You Jazz Cat ends. Music director/staff arranger for Sesame Street at the same time as he works with his own Jazz bands, this is New Yorker Joe Fiedler’s second Open Sesame disc where he transforms kids’ show tunes into improvised music. Adding funk, Blues, Latin and other textures to the 13 selections his sophisticated arrangements resemble the beyond category feeling of some Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn projects for the Ellington band. Part of the West Coast contingent of advanced players, Michael Vlatkovich’s octet compositions suggest a contemporary take on the fluid creations produced by a California big band leader whose concepts were a large part of 1940s and 1950s Jazz, but whose name is more unfamiliar to anyone younger than 60 than Oscar the Grouch or the Cookie Minster: Stan Kenton. MORE

July 6, 2018

Jeff Lederer’s Shakers n’ Bakers

Heart Love
little (i) music CD107

Although the objective of most Jazz repertoire bands remains to pay respects to certain, usually deceased, musicians or musicians by interpreting the recorded work, very few do more than collect tunes for a tribute, play them in an expected fashion and move on. Luckily as the honorees have evolved past saluting big names, alternative sounds’ novel nuances are sometimes conveyed. Case in point is tenor saxophonist Jeff Lederer’s Shakers n’ Bakers. For the past decade or so the New York-based academic, best-known for his work in Matt Wilson’s groups, has been working his way through the oeuvre of Albert Ayler (1936 -1970), linking it to the sacred songs of the Shaker religious sect, MORE

November 16, 2014

Michael Lösch

Sweet Alps No #

Nicole Mitchell

Intergalactic Beings

FPE Records FPE 02

Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack

Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire

Singlespeed Music SSM-014

Franz Koglmann


ORF-CD 3177

Something In the Air: Mixing Advanced Jazz with Program Music

By Ken Waxman

Creating an entire program of integrated story and sound has long been a hallmark of western music. Just because the 20th and 21st century has given composers not only more instruments and modes to work with but also the possibility of adding aleatoric passages hasn`t lessened such projects’ appeal. Unlike the sometimes ill-conceived so-called jazz musicals of the past, today’s improvisers have the skills needed to link a coherent story line with creative sounds. MORE

November 11, 2014

Festival Report

Sibiu Jazz and More
By Ken Waxman

Situated in the dead center of Romania, Sibiu is a fortified medieval city of winding streets, whose hub is the connected Grand (Piața Mare) and Lesser (Piața Mica) squares, where every building appears to be of historical importance. Populated by citizens of German, Transylvanian and Romanian background, it seems appropriate that the Jazz and More (JAM) Festival highlighted high-quality international improvisers annually.

Chicago drummer Tim Daisy was one player whose performance and demeanor reflected Sibiu’s cooperative history during JAM’s 10th edition October 3 to 5. Not only did he turn in a spectacular display of free jazz interaction with long-time partner tenor and alto saxophonist Dave Rempis at JAM’s main venue, the soft-seated Teatrul Gong, but later that same night played a sympathetic duet set with Bucharest-based pianist Mircea Tiberian at the basement Bohemian Flow club in Piața Mica, then participated in a jam session that went on to 5 a.m. With Rempis, an animated Daisy bounced up, down as he clanked and clicked every variety of cymbals, blocks, bells, chains and other paraphernalia. In contrast the reedist stood stock still, reeling out stuttering, slurring or slashing phrases in many registers and intensities which angled perfectly into the drummer’s narratives Adding rhythmic blues riffs and Africanized inflections to tonal deconstruction, the duo ensured that each improvisation flowed logically from thematic roots and swung hard in its own fashion. Feeling his way with Tiberian, who craftily extracted multi-hued rhythm plus Monk-like single-note emphasis from an electric piano, Daisy was initially deferential. Quickly through drum-top dusting gave way to resonating buzzes and echoing strokes. By the time Tiberian was mixing staccato smears with dramatic theme extensions, the drummer uncorked enough rocking clatter to echo off the club’s stained brick walls. MORE

August 17, 2010

Max Nagl

Big Four/Sortileges
Rude Noises 017 CD



Rude Noises 016 CD

One of those Viennese musical polymaths who seem to exist in profusion inside the ring roads of the ancient capital of the Astro-Hungarian Empire, saxophonist Max Nagl is best-known abroad for the avant-Swing Big Four combo completed by French guitarist Noël Akchoté, and Americans, trumpeter Steven Bernstein and bassist Brad Jones.

But, as these CDs demonstrate, Nagl – like other advanced musicians from the Austrian capital such as trumpeters Franz Hautzinger and Franz Koglmann plus keyboardist Hannes Löschel – isn’t satisfied with one distinct style. His preference has been to investigate theatre and film scoring, folklore and electronica as well as Jazz improv. Plus he manages to work all these genres into unique collages. While there are only two CDs here for instance, three different formations are involved, the Big Four and solo and trio efforts, which are as quirky as the quartet is faux-mainstream. MORE

April 3, 2008

Nagel, Bernstein, Akchoté, Jones

Big Four Live
hatOLOGY 637

By Ken Waxman

A unique recasting of the timbres created by a classic Swing Era combo, this mixed American-European quartet proves that profundity can result from post-modern transference. Mostly performed portamento, with just enough growls, echoes and spikes to be distinctive, the nine tracks here add intellectual rigor to andante swing.

Never to be confused with Dixielander Muggsy Spanier, American trumpeter Steven Bernstein still works old-style references into such slangily titled compositions as “New Viper Dance” and “Muggles 2000”, while making full use of plunger digressions, braying rubato tones and showy triplets. In the Sidney Bechet role, Austrian alto saxophonist Max Nagel replaces wide vibrato with sudden intervallic jumps and rasping obbligatos, while his solos range from velvety to – on his aptly titled “Monx”, of “Epistrophy” not ecclesiastical reference – irregular chirping and sibilance. MORE

May 12, 2006

Mario Pavone Sextet

Deez To Blues
Playscape PSR#J050505

Super-sizing his usual combo to a six-pack, veteran bassist Mario Pavone celebrates his 40th year in music with this hard-swinging CD of original compositions, mostly arranged by sideman, trumpeter Steven Bernstein of Sex Mob fame.

New to the Pavone orbit are Howard Johnson, a triple threat on tuba, baritone saxophone and bass clarinet, who provides a welcome low-pitched anchor, and violinist Charles Burnham, known for his work with the Odyssey trio, adding string quivers that range from classic Swing lines to near Old Timey country hoedowns. Returning are subtle drummer Michael Sarin and pianist Peter Madsen, whose flashing runs wring nuances from the music without hogging the spotlight. MORE

February 7, 2005


Too Damn Hot
Palmetto PM 2105

Deep Blue Bruise
Delmark DE 556

At last, two honest, straight-ahead organ trio records.

Using the guitar-organ and drums format that has been standard since Wild Bill Davis invented the genre in the late 1940s, the members of Dr. Lonnie Smith’s band and the Deep Blue Organ trio score because they pointedly don’t try to supposedly improve or update the style.

Thus there are no affectations here such as 20-minute jam band-like noodling; no additional synthesizer or other electronic riffs added to simple, yet powerful rhythms; and no attempts to transform grunge classics into funk numbers. Instead the bands work out on a collection of originals, jazz and rock classics and -- to be honest -- tunes that skirt schlock, making them all instant foot tappers that impress as they lock into the groove. MORE

January 19, 2004


Playscape PSR#J061803

A Bright Nowhere
Matchless MRCD 55

Turning on its head the old NRA slogan of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and actually that way making a modicum of sense out of its twisted message, these bands show that instruments don’t make the music, people do.

For both these quintets consist of improvisers playing the exact same instruments and ones which make up the prototypical hard bop quintet. Yet the advanced music played by Mario Pavone’s quintet -- and trio -- is anything but typical boppish fare. Meantime the Conditions twist the sounds arising from trumpet, tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums into original fare that owes more to extended free improvisation than freebop. MORE