Trumpeter and arranger Steven Bernstein might be the hardest working man in music these days. Just these last few years he has garnered a Grammy nomination (for Sexotica by his band Sex Mob) and a Annie nomination for scoring a children's TV series; released an album under John Zorn's Tzadik label; scored some Laurel & Hardy flicks; arranged on albums by Rufus Wainright, Marianne Faithfull, Linda Thompson and Darlene Love; played as member in Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble band; served as musical director for Hal Willner's show, and much more.
So what does a busy guy like Bernstein do for fun and relaxation? He leads a ten-piece jazz orchestra, of course!
Formed just five years ago, Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra, or MTO, honed their craft in late night jam sessions at New York's fabled Tonic nightclub. Bernstein's crew consists of members of New York's underground jazz scene, including bassist Ben Allison and saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum. There's two other sax players, a trombonist, a violinist, bassist, guitarist and drummer. Bernstein himself plays trumpet and slide trumpet.
This ensemble is no one's main gig, just a labor of love. That's why in spite of all the serious projects Bernstein is involved with, he proclaims MTO as possibly "the fullest expression of my musical personality." This band revives the spirit of Chicago and Harlem jazz of the 1920's and early 1930's. That was before ensembles got so large and improvisation charted out of existence, when big band became the dominant force in jazz. That jaunty, juking jazz of Prohibition serves as a guiding force, but MTO won't be hemmed in by it, either, if the opportunity to throw in other ingredients adds to the fun. Think of MTO as a pre-swing oriented jam band.
No where is the mash-up of old-timey jazz with more contemporary styles more blatant than on the declarative opener, "We are MTO." This Bernstein original is succinctly described in the CD notes as "Don Redman meets Funkadelic at Count Basie's summer by the lake." This calling card of sorts has got a backwoods beat merrily married to the horns of the Jazz Age.