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Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra : MTO Plays Sly

Steven Bernstein's MTO gives Sly & the Family Stone the jazz treatment

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Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra has always mixed pop and soul tunes-the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Prince-into its repertoire, but now the group has fully transformed into a soul band. Gone are the Count Basie and Fats Waller numbers. MTO Plays Sly is a tribute to Sly and the Family Stone, and this time the slide trumpeter’s outfit doesn’t bother with jazz one iota.

The “orchestra,” as it were, remains a horn-heavy nonet, but here it has invited eight big-name guests to help out on vocals, guitar and organ. The album begins with its apex, a blasting-out-of-the-gates version of “Stand” underpinned by Ben Allison’s steady bass and Ben Perowsky’s crisp drums, over which organist Bernie Worrell and guitarist Vernon Reid lay some funky grooves, which are in turn punctuated by precise, punchy brass. Halfway into the tune, Sandra St. Victor steps up to the mic and delivers her smooth, soulful vocals. Soon the piece shifts gears with a funkier bassline, bombastic drums and Reid’s signature guitar shredding. Whew! What, there are 12 more songs to go?

Other highlights: Antony Hegarty’s soaring, fluttering falsetto on “Family Affair”; the banjo-driven, country-inflected “Sly Notions”; a droning, strangely affecting version of “Everyday People” that sounds like a Siouxsie and the Banshees song; Dean Bowman’s gruff, heartfelt vocals on “Time”; and an extremely tight, extremely funky instrumental cover of “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me Africa.”

Originally Published