Still thriving and evolving 25 years after its founding, the visionary quartet Sexmob continues to explode all preconceived notions about what an instrumental jazz band can be. Emerging from the Knitting Factory scene in the mid-1990s, slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein, saxophonist Briggan Krauss, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen changed the rules of the game with their raw improvisation, full of groove and swing, with infinitely imaginative arrangements and an amazing sense of fun, exhibiting the highest levels of music while cheerfully breaking through all the rigid boundaries of genre and taste. Since their debut in 1998 "Din of Inequity" onwards, they have formed one of the most lasting and substantial artistic ties of our times, with an alchemy (which often includes guests) that in spite of time retains all its freshness and ability to to surprise. "At this point," said NPR First Listen, "Sexmob is a collective ideal." A Sexmob concert does not have a lineup. A song doesn't just start and end, followed by applause. "This has never happened once in 25 years," says Bernstein. Instead, crowds of loyal fans go to listen to a band that embraces perpetual risk, following the tradition of the late Don Cherry, whose ideas of musical collage and 'endless beginnings' remain the highest principles. Similarly, Sexmob does not 'cover' songs: as Bernstein has said, they 'sexmob' them. On "Din of Inequity" it was Prince, Leadbelly, Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, The Cardigans, “Macarena” and more. On "Solid Sender" (1999) it was Nirvana, the Stones, the Dead, ABBA, more Ellington but as on the first album, Bernstein originals in the mix as well. With "Theatre & Dance" (2000, also featuring Jim Black on drums) came a sustained look at Ellington (via a commission from choreographer Donald Byrd), and with "Sexmob Does Bond" (2001) came the film music of John Barry (and Bernstein’s original riposte “Dr. Yes”). In essence, Bernstein and his friends do what jazz musicians have been doing since the dawn of jazz, playing popular songs but transfiguring them in their own way, and in the process they have opened a way in terms of form and structure, arrangement and recomposition (areas in which Bernstein also distinguished himself beyond Sexmob). “Jazz was stronger than any music of his time; it was played on a more psychedelic level than average vaudeville songs or Minstrel Songs,” Bernstein once told reporter Ted Panken. "This is what I am trying to do with Sexmob". The design of the album cover and the images of the band are also a step above: an indisputable fact in the case of "Dime Grind Palace", of 2003, with the presence of the late, great trombonist Roswell Rudd, together with Peter Apfelbaum and Doug Wieselman , Bernstein's colleagues at the Millennial Territory Orchestra (which Bernstein launched in 1999). Scott Harding (aka Scotty Hard) put his indelible production mark on "Dime Grind Palace", as he did on "Din of Inequity", "Solid Sender" and "Sex Mob Does Bond". Years later, Harding and Sexmob reunited in a new collaborative structure that resulted in "The Hard Way", a decidedly electronic album, due out later this year, in which Wollesen is on both acoustic and electric drums while the band delves into electronic rhythms. Harding's and soundscapes, reinventing them in the process. Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer is a guest on "You Can Take a Myth", in which he sprinkles high tones and abstract harmonies on the tones of a bass processed by Scherr as the composition unfolds. John Medski (by Medeski Martin & Wood) is at the origin of the organ chords and the perfect blues phrasing in "Banacek" and creates a magical atmosphere thanks to the mellotron, counterpointing the evocative samples of Harding's balafon, in "Club Pythagorean". In every methodological context, the Sexmob aesthetic remains uninhibited and true. For Thirsty Ear label's groundbreaking Blue Series, in 2006 the band earned Grammy Award nominations by releasing "Sexotica", a reimagining of Martin Denny's Exotica genre with extensive post-production work by Danny Blume and Chris Chestnut (the team known as GoodandEvil). Thirsty Ear also released “Sex Mob Meets Medeski: Live in Willisau 2006”, together with the organ master in a wild raid through the beloved Sexmob repertoire. In 2013 the main nucleus of the Sexmob quartet returns once again to the soundtracks with "Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti (Sexmob Plays Fellini: The Music of Nino Rota)" and in 2017 "Cultural Capital", the first release of Sexmob composed entirely from Bernstein's original pieces. "... like the best movies," said Abe Beeson of KNKX of "Cultural Capital", "there is humor, intrigue, confusion, pain, passion and the ever-present loose groove." With every proposal - and certainly with "The Hard Way "and its rich electro-acoustic groove canvas- Bernstein and the band express a modernizing impulse but also an equally solid foundation in the roots of jazz and American song. Sexmob's immersion in a wide range of contemporary music is consistent with the Steven Bernstein's chameleonic experience, performing alongside giants such as Aretha Franklin, Sting, Lou Reed, U2, Linda Ronstadt, Digable Planets, Hal Willner, Sam Rivers, Bernie Worrell, Henry Butler, Little Feat, Courtney Love and a myriad of other legends. Bernstein was musical director of the Kansas City Band (from Robert Altman's film), Jim Thirlwell's show Steroid Maximus and Hal Wilner's projects on Leonard Cohen, Doc Pomus and Bill Withers. He has released four albums on or name for John Zorn's Tzadik Records: “Diaspora Soul”, “Diaspora Blues”, “Diaspora Hollywood” and “Diaspora Suite”. He has collaborated with jazz giants including Roswell Rudd, Don Byron and Medeski, Martin & Wood. Since 2004 he has been a member of Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble Band, playing at Helm's home in Woodstock in addition to touring. As an arranger, Bernstein has written for Bill Frisell, Rufus Wainright, Marianne Faithfull and Elton John, among others. He has composed for dance, theater, film and television and, with composer John Lurie (with whom he was a partner in the fantastic Lounge Lizards in the early 90s), he arranged the soundtracks for many films, including "Get Shorty" .
Funky, bluesy, with a tattered dissonance evoked by Krauss's throaty saxophone and marked by Bernstein's signature wail of superfine sound, Sexmob continues to write new paths in 21st century creative music.