Steven Bernstein - Diaspora Suite
Steven Bernstein - Diaspora Suite
(CD), Tzadik TZA-CD-8122, 2008-01-22
With groups like Sex Mob, Millennial Territory Orchestra and Diaspora Soul, Steven Bernstein is energizing the downtown scene with a passionate and indefatigable creativity. His brilliance continues with 'Diaspora Suite', the fourth installment in his Diaspora series for Tzadik and perhaps the best! Twelve original compositions exploring the Jewish tradition are brilliantly performed by a nonet of California musicians including Ben Goldberg, Peter Apfelbaum and several key players from his legendary band the Hieroglyphics. Channeling Miles Davis, Gil Evans and the Sephardic traditions of Darkness and Light, this is fabulous new Jewish music by one of the most talented and charismatic figures in the downtown scene.
02. Simeon (Yis May Chu)
Peter Apfelbaum - Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Qarqabas
Steven Bernstein - Trumpet
Ben Goldberg - Clarinet, Contra Alto Clarinet
John Schott - Electric Guitar
Scott Amandola - Drums
Will Bernard - Electric Guitar Sweeteners
Nels Cline - Electric Guitar
Jeff Cressman - Trombone
Devin Hoff - Electric Bass
Josh Jones - Drums, Percussion
Press Release :
Bernstein is set to release the fourth installment Of His "Diaspora" Series, entitled Diaspora Suite, On Tzadik Records, featuring a nonet with Nels Cline, Will Bernard, Peter Apfelbaum & Scott Amendola
"Truth is fluid and subject to change, if it's nailed down, it's not truth anymore, it's just one man's opinion." – Robert Altman on improvisation
Brooklyn, NY—The ever-prolific trumpeter, arranger, composer and bandleader Steven Bernstein is back with his latest recording Diaspora Suite, the fourth installment from his critically-acclaimed Diaspora series on Tzadik Records. True to the high standards set by its predecessors, Diaspora Suite further evolves the concept of radical Jewish music, however, this time around Bernstein contributes all twelve original compositions. The music was recorded in one day during a marathon session at Bay Studios in Bernstein's hometown of Oakland. He was joined by a nonet of fellow California-native musicians, including Jeff Cressman on trombone, Peter Apfelbaum on tenor saxophone and flute, Ben Goldberg on clarinets, Nels Cline, John Schott and Will Bernard on guitars, Devin Hoff on bass, and Josh Jones and Scott Amendola on drums and percussion.
"I'd been performing the music from Diaspora Soul, Diaspora Blues and Diaspora Hollywood around the world," explains Bernstein. "With each performance I'd gained greater insight into the cantorial melodies that I had transcribed over the years, and like any folk music these melodies transformed as we played them night after night for different audiences."
Channeling the Sephardic tradition of darkness and light, Bernstein presented the musicians with a loose sketch of the music they'd be recording and left the rest up to divine intervention, not to mention the adroit improvisational skills of his collaborators. Bernstein allowed the music to be heavily influence by the music he grew up with. The very idea for such an approach was an evolution in and of itself. First, Tzadik Records' founder, John Zorn, strongly encouraged Bernstein to focus exclusively on original material for his next Diaspora project. With that thought in mind, the Diaspora Suite concept snapped into focus for Bernstein when performing at Robert Altman's memorial service. He'd previously worked with the legendary movie director scoring the music for his film Kansas City. Altman had always been a proponent of improvisation within his work, creating a framework for the storyline, but largely allowing the actors to develop their characters on the screen.
"Robert Altman became the inspiration for the process of this project," says Bernstein. "It was Altman who'd once said 'you write so the actors know who they are, allow the conversations to unfold. Create an event and get it all on tape.'"
The dynamics of such a path can clearly be heard within the sprawling performances captured on Diaspora Suite. The line-up features some of Steven Bernstein's oldest friends (Peter Apfelbaum, Jeff Cressman and Bernstein have been playing music together since the sixth grade). Also within the Diaspora Suite band are five original members of the Hieroglyphics Ensemble. The chemistry is palatable as soaring horn figures break apart on cue, giving way to fearless improvisations like the solos by Schott and Apfelbaum on "Simeon (Yis May Chu)." It's easy to envision the frenetic bandleader madly conducting the ensemble in the studio. The sparse, intertwining saxophone, trumpet and clarinet lines on "Asher" are supported by a delicate arrangement that pairs a perfect combination of finesse and grit. One might deduct that Bernstein grew up with The Fillmore West in his backyard by the blazing psychedelia and guitar freak-outs of "Zebulon." It's precisely this kind of fierce and fearless improvisation that defines Diaspora Suite from track to track.
"The idea behind this music was to meld the 'Diaspora' language I have been developing over the last 10 years with a utopian vision of Bay Area music—the intersection of the Mwandishi band, Santana, The Grateful Dead and Sly Stone," says Bernstein. "The musicians' fearless performances really made this project come to life. In particular I have to thank Nels Cline, a master of the electric guitar and improvisational clarity who can shift effortlessly from sonic landscapes to shredding solos."
Steven Bernstein enters 2008 with momentum that's been building for sometime now. During 2006 Bernstein released two albums from his bands' Millennial Territory Orchestra (MTO Volume One) and Sex Mob (Sexotica). The latter received a Grammy Award nomination, while MTO was chosen by NPR's "Toast of the Nation" to be broadcast in concert around the country on New Year's Eve. With his work as a leader the focus in '06, the following year found Bernstein in perpetual demand by other artists. He'd contribute horn arrangements to studio albums by Rufus Wainwright, Marianne Faithful, Linda Thompson and Darlene Love. Simultaneously, he was brought in for live horns on concert performances by Lou Reed (appearing in his concert film, Berlin), Jarvis Cocker, Ben E. King, Shane McGowan, Beth Orton and Pete Doherty among others. If all of this wasn't enough, he's a full-time member of Levon Helm's band, regularly appearing at the famous "Midnight Ramble" shows in Woodstock. This association also landed him onstage for Helm's return to The Ryman in Nashville. And while all of this limited Bernstein's time for his own projects in '07, he still managed to tour the Midwest for the first time with MTO, as well as, headline the Moers Jazz Festival with the group. Sex Mob also maintained a regular performance schedule, appearing consistently in New York City, touring South America for the first time, and bringing the quartet to Germany for a television appearance. Now with the release of Diaspora Suite, Bernstein is back as a leader, presiding over perhaps the most dynamic recording of his career.
About the Diaspora Projects :
Bernstein's Diaspora projects explore the far-flung worlds of Hebrew music as it bubbles up in unlikely contexts in a trio of releases on Tzadik. "Diaspora Soul" (1999) digs into "the Gulf Coast sound, encompassing Texas and Cuba". Its successor, "Diaspora Blues" (2002) finds Bernstein in collaboration with the great Sam Rivers and his trio. The most recent edition, "Diaspora Hollywood" (2004) taps the inspiration of Jewish film composers such as Alfred Newman and Max Steiner, with a West Coast band that includes X drummer DJ Bonebrake (on vibes), baritone saxist Pablo Calogero, bassist David Pilch and drummer Danny Frankel. Fans have praised the recording as an exquisite excursion into "lounge mysticism", redolent of noirish intrigue.