By: Dennis Cook
As bold in its way as primo Ellington, yet cookin' with very different flavored grease, Steven Bernstein's rejuvenating Diaspora Suite (Tzadik) percolates with modernity but is everywhere touched by older flavors, roots and tubers caught in the teeth of this steady snapping maw. To call this jazz is a compliment to the genre. While the field can hold this level of diversity – a fisherman's net that pulls in '60s Miles Davis, Klezmer, Duke's small group recordings, '70s strut funk and stray bits of MMW - it usually doesn't, especially in 2008, but Bernstein's compositional acumen and crazy gifted collaborators do their best to keep jazz's boundaries good 'n' flexible.
Billed as "fabulous new Jewish music" on the sleeve, this entry in John Zorn's Radical Jewish Culture series is a corker and a half. This burns like early hot jazz with raw ass electric guitars (courtesy of John Schott, Will Bernard and Nels Cline) in the hypothetical soundtrack to a couple of vipers dueling in a tea pad ("Levi") or the irregular gait of a stumbling behemoth ("Gad"). This is as forthright and assured a leap into new territory as anyone has mustered in instrumental music in years, and every single participant throws themselves into Bernstein's compositions with gusto. The Sex Mob veteran's never flashy, always spot-on trumpet leads an extraordinary ensemble into deep, yet sometimes playful waters.
In addition to the guitarists, the band includes Jeff Cressman (trombone), Josh Jones (drums, percussion), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Peter Apfelbaum (tenor sax, flute, qarqabas), Devin Hoff (electric bass) and Scott Amendola (drums). Captured in a single day in Oakland, California in March 2007, Diaspora Suite is indeed "fabulous new Jewish music" and a lot of good things sophisticated gentiles might dig, too. The "loose framework" he provided, according to Bernstein's liner notes, offers up "a tribute to the sounds he grew up with in the Bay Area." As captured moments go, this one is a doozy – the sound of music very much alive, tapped into different spheres and molded with caring hands in real time. Very highly recommended.
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