Steven Bernstein has shone in settings including his avant-influenced Sex Mob, the score for Kansas City, and work for a long list of jazz, rock, pop, and R&B notables. So it was audacious but not entirely unexpected when the eclectic-minded trumpeter, arranger, and composer assembled his Millennial Territory Orchestra to crank out four albums in four days.
Bernstein has said that Good Time Music, the aptly titled second of those releases, reflects musical lessons drawn from his collaborations with Levon Helm and Larry Campbell, combined with Duke Ellington and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Indeed, all those influences filter through these half-dozen frequently raucous tracks, featuring the boisterous, soulful belting of Catherine Russell. The two met at one of Helm’s celebrated Midnight Ramble shows; Bernstein subsequently performed and arranged horns on her album Sentimental Streak, and she worked with Sex Mob and MTO.
The feelgood party opens with the big-band-style intro and laidback R&B groove of Percy Mayfield’s “River’s Invitation,” bolstered by the gritty soloing of trombonist Curtis Fowlkes. It’s chock full of New Orleans street-music feel and harmonies that Bernstein no doubt absorbed through gigging with Henry Butler, Dr. John, and Allen Toussaint. Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can” is kickstarted by Charlie Burnham’s unaccompanied Cajun-sounding fiddle, which returns for a juicy extended improvisation. Bessie Smith’s “You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon” is peak bluesy retro-modern fun, spiked with Bernstein’s slide trumpet.
The similarly charming second half offers the shimmering textures and pulsing beat of W.C. Handy’s “Loveless Love,” a.k.a. “Careless Love,” replete with Erik Lawrence’s leisurely spin on bari; a hyper, danceable version of Earl King’s “Come On,” tricked out with a richly textured instrumental intro; and the back-beating, lesser-known Professor Longhair gem “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand.” When do we get to hear these tunes performed live?