Set lists are for pussies. I have no idea what songs Steven Bernstein played at Club Helsinki for his big birthday show with Sex Mob. I do know he made the slide trumpet his patent bitch. Few people own a slide trumpet, much less have a clue what it is – and Bernstein owns it. What is that thing anyway? A shrink-ray trombone? A kazoo on steroids? When Bernstein blows it into an old Green Bullet tacked onto a tweed Fender, it’s the voice of Yahweh, the call of Cthulhu and mighty storm, Allahu Akbar.
Paired with special guest Roswell Rudd’s actual ‘bone (he’s got a bigger one!), Bernstein’s axe becomes a dragon slayer. When the two cut loose on “Slide Serenade” (OK, so I know some of the songs), it was an exercise in funk, jazz delerium and High Holy Days ecstasy. It was also an experiment in space.
No, not esoteric space. Actual space. Musicians, take note. It is possible to not play and sound stupefyingly good. In a tune titled for the twin horns – the world stage premiere of such, no less – Bernstein and Rudd laid out for the first six honking minutes. That’s six minutes, folks, with two titans standing there silent and ROCKING the damn place.
While they perched, like pillars, guest keysman John Medeski – no stranger to the long noodle – played a simple ostinato, over and friggin’ over. Beautiful. Atop this, guest drummer Ben Perowsky (was I disappointed Kenny Wolleson wasn’t there? Are you kidding me, I was despondent that Kenny Wolleson wasn’t there. Was I disappointed in Ben Perowsky? Wake up, kids, he’s brilliant) played mere fragments, tickles and flams tighter than Cleopatra’s grip.
The true majesty unfurled from Tony Scherr’s bass. He donned a pick for the doghouse and proceeded to tell jokes on four strings for an eighth of an hour. Bernstein was laughing at the sweet humor. Rudd – from the other definition of space, clad in an ersatz Apollo jumpsuit – was grinning. And Scherr was flat out laughing at his own bursts, retorts and jollities.
This was music talking. A conversation without words. When the tune ended, probably 12 minutes later, it did so in an explosion – driven by Briggan Krauss’ shreik-a-diddling alto sax – the antithesis of its intro. Collateral damage. Shrapnel. Albert Ayler with an IED. Allahu Akbar.
It wasn’t, by the way, Bernstein’s birthday. It was his wife’s. His was at midnight, almost an hour after the end of the long set. No matter, off stage, at the back of the bar, they celebrated with cake.
Cake. Sex Mob. Same thing.
Review by Bokonon
Seth Rogovoy’s review at the Rogovoy Report