Music

Sexmob: Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti (Sexmob Plays Fellini: The Music of Nino Rota)

Bernstein gets Sexmob back out of the freezer for a cinematic tribute sure to thaw any detractor of campy jazz.


Sexmob

Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti (Sexmob Plays Fellini: The Music of Nino Rota)

Label: The Royal Potato Family
US Release Date: 2013-03-19
UK Release Date: 2013-03-19
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

More than 30 years ago, Hal Willner, the great master of the all-star jazz tribute project, released Amarcord Nino Rota, an album of Nino Rota covers that featured Bill Frisell, Steve Lacy, Muhal Richard Abrams, Wynton Marsalis, and Carla Bley, just to name a few. And while Nino Rota's soundtrack work for the films of Federico Fellini is still floating around, a copy of Amarcord Nino Rota will criminally cost you 50 bones at the least. So if you wanted to hear a contemporary slant to Rota's notable works, including "La Dolce Vita", you were kind of out of luck...until now. Steven Bernstein's Sexmob has come to the rescue, preserving a playful side of Rota's music that we can all enjoy yet again.

For those of you who need a quick catching up, Steven Bernstein's Sexmob have given themselves one task: to make modern jazz fun. They've pulled it off for the most part, thanks to the trendy practice of covering non-jazz tunes in a jazzy style (ABBA, Nirvana, Buffalo Springfield, a slew of James Bond themes). Of course, there are a few fans out there who have a hard time reconciling Sexmob's jubilance with Bernstein's more pensive Diaspora albums on John Zorn's Tzadik label (part of the Radical Jewish Culture series), but it's nothing that would keep most open-minded listeners awake at night. And when it's up to you to make a genre more fun, you have to take yourself a little less seriously. Much like their no-wave/"fake" jazz predecessors the Lounge Lizards, you couldn't always tell what passages of the music were high art and what was an elaborate joke at no one's expense. It all came together in the same quirk, whether silly or serious, that stirred bright musicianship with odd-colored tones. If it moved you, then that's what you call gravy.

Steven Bernstein has remained prolific over the years, but not always with Sexmob. After the Diaspora Suite, he devoted most of his time to the Millennial Territory Orchestra with only a live album featuring John Medeski to bear the Sexmob name. The fever-funked Sexotica from 2006 was the last studio recording the band did before Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti (Sexmob Plays Fellini: The Music of Nino Rota). And if Bernstein and company didn't mean this album to be a gentle scratch behind the ears of jazz aficionados after the bewildering Sexotica (which was strangely nominated for a Grammy), then jazzbos should nevertheless feel a genuine invitation back to the party. Pasta for everyone!

The Sexmob format never comes close to overthrowing the material. If you loved the Federico Fellini/Nino Rota package before, Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti will not knock you off course. New fans of the Fellini/Rota package are an inevitability when the music is in the hands of Bernstein and his band, the most admirable goal behind any tribute album. Sure, Berstein plays a slide trumpet, sometimes distorted (test your tolerance on double-tongued "Nadia Gray"). And yes, bassist Tony Scherr plays an electric, not an upright. Kenny Wollesen's kitwork can be downright dumbfounding. Sometimes it sounds like he's playing the drums for a rock band instead of a jazz combo. And those drum fills...there are four bar breaks where he sounds too reckless to know what he's doing! Of course, that's not the case. I've purchased more than one Tzadik CD, so there's got to be a jig to this whole thing. Amidst the occasional chaos, saxophonist Briggan Krauss rings as the genuine fit he's always been.

But Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti doesn't spill its cards all over the table at every hand. Most of it is quite subtle, retaining a reverent Sexmob character while never neutering the material. It bounces ("Volpina"), skronks ("Paparazzo"), strolls ("I Vitelloni"), mopes ("Gelsomnia"), and rocks ("The Grand Hotel"). For those of us who got to watch Franco Zeffirelli's adaptation of Romeo & Juliet (for which Rota composed the music) in high school, only to find ourselves exchanging double-takes with one another when Olivia Hussey suddenly flung herself out of bed one morning, Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti (Sexmob Plays Fellini: The Music of Nino Rota) can offer a brief return to that randiness you feel when you get a glimpse of something you weren't supposed to see. As Hussey's brief nudity served its purpose in a story of two young kids too horny to realize their own missteps, Sexmob's sometimes straightforward and sometimes ramshackle take on Nino Rota's music reminds us that the ever-flowing rivers of music can give you gleeful undercurrents. A masterpiece? You can certainly call it masterful.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image