Out of the Territories

Steven Bernstein's Old-Timey Jazz Comes in From the Cold

The band's spirit is such that it gets away with what a few years ago might have seemed borderline minstrelsy: a performance of "You'se a Viper," boldly sung at a leisurely tempo by the band's banjoist-guitarist, Doug Wamble. Music belongs to whoever cares enough to play it, and Wamble, who exudes instrumental élan and sings with plangent openness, knows this stuff cold. But while prettifying the title phrase would be as barbarous as, say, "Bess, You Are My Woman" or "You Are Nothing More Than a Hound Dog," phrases like "I got to gets" paint the lily a coat darker than Jonah Jones did on the original 1936 Stuff Smith record (which, incidentally, was taken way up in tempo and has one of Jones's best trumpet solos). Wamble also belabored the ending, drawing it out with tremolos and shtick that worked well enough at the club, but underscored the challenge the band will face when it records. The MTO, which has yet to release a CD, taped the Jazz Standard gig for possible release. But though a live performance captures a degree of spontaneity, interaction, and laughs that may or may not travel well, the clarity and discipline of a studio session might make a stronger case for its repertory.

In any case, the Millennial Territory Orchestra is a band with much promise, and should be making frequent trips across Canal to various heated venues. The immensity of arcane jazz promises a limitless book, and Bernstein's arrangements draw out the musicians in the kind of flattering cameos that are a virtue of largish ensembles. It was a particular pleasure to hear Charlie Burnham away from Odyssey and other downtown bands, demonstrating elaborate chops and witty reflexes, and to hear Apfelbaum go deep inside and circumspectly outside, as the situation permitted. I really want to hear more of Wamble singing, too. Bernstein knows the strengths of these musicians and the others well enough to indulge in his own variation on what Butch Morris calls conduction—controlling sudden change-ups in dynamics, sending this contingent in while having the other lay out, and conveying withal the notion that this music is so much fun it can hardly contain itself.


Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra will appear midnight Friday, January 24, at Tonic.

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