Coming out on April 14, 2017, Cultural Capital represents a first for Sexmob: instead of ‘sexmobbing’ other people’s songs, they ‘sexmob’ their own; namely, those of leader and slide trombone king Steven Bernstein. It’s not like there was anything wrong with the old formula; their last album tackled songs from the films of Italian director Federico Fellini and I not only liked what they did, I loved it. Bernstein and his bassist/guitarist (Tony Scherr), saxophonist/guitarist (Briggan Krauss) and drummer (Kenny Wollesen) know how to spot a great melody and then take full ownership of it.
Taking ownership of something that was already theirs was going to be no sweat for the quartet, perhaps this is too easy for them. Nah, it made no difference. We took notice of that earlier when pulling the curtain back on one of the cuts, “Bari Si,” muddying up the distinction between old and contemporary, inside and outside. “Syrup,” on the other hand, is modern all the way, a tight rhythm section meting out a tough beat and even featuring a brief cameo by a wailing guitar.
“Street” doesn’t swing, it confidently strides. Krauss plays his sax like no one else, making it speak like Charlie Brown’s teacher. There’s a middle space that stays unoccupied until an electric guitar invades it and before you can fully absorb what the hell just happened, the CD has moved on to the next track, the gypsy groove elation “Step Apache.”
Maybe that’s much of where the appeal of Cultural Capital comes from; there’s a big emphasis of quality time over quantity time: they slather songs with ethnic, regional or trad-jazz flavors and attitude, and when the point is made, they pull out and move on to the next idea (only two of theese baker’s dozen of tunes venture past the five minute mark).
Echoes of San Francisco Bay Area psychedelic blues can be heard on “SF,” Bernstein’s trumpet even moaning like a blues singer. “Valentino” begins discreetly but then guitars from Krauss and Scherr creep in and pretty soon a rock stream is coexisting peacefully with a jazz one. “Golden House” is a second line delight that is a perfect complement for the randy horns of Bernstein and Krauss.
Sexmob is Bernstein’s baby, but one with a lot of sympathetic babysitters. Wollesen maintains an unusual, hypnotic jungle percussion groove on “4 Cents” and conjures up a gentle storm on “Giant Minds”. Krauss gets to go off leash on a couple of short sketches, “Lacy” and “Briggan,” the latter in which he plays two notes at once. He just might be the band’s secret weapon because in a band full of idiosyncratics, he sticks out.
For two decades now, Sexmob has merrily desecrated — in a good way– the works of some great composers. Now, they take a swig of their own medicine. Cultural Capital doesn’t have the overarching theme of prior albums, but here they show that they don’t need a stinkin’ theme to create adventurous fun out of jazz.
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