Steven Bernstein’s Sex Mob, Vienna Porgy & Bess, 27 April 2009

A highly smile-inducing evening at Porgy & Bess, courtesy of the previously unknown to me Steven Bernstein and his band of fine musicians. These guys played with boundless verve and enthusiasm, balancing infectious melodies with well-chosen blasts of dissonance that prevented the whole thing from lapsing into jazz formularity. The usual large and appreciative P&B audience kept the group running at full tilt, but in truth no such encouragement was needed, since Bernstein proved himself to be a consummate bandleader who urged – and received – great bubbling cauldrons of sound from his bandmates.

At the heart was Bernstein’s mastery of the slide trumpet, an instrument looking (and sounding, for that matter) like a cross between a normal trumpet and a trombone. Nimbly avoiding both the braying honk of the former and the queasy lurch of the latter, the slide trumpet led Sex Mob in all kinds of crazy directions. Following close behind came Briggan Krauss’s saxophone, casting fiery post-Ayler skronk into the spaces left by the agile rhythm section of Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen. With Bernstein conducting through spirited flurries of motion and gesture, the stage was a hotbed of delirious, pulsating energy.

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