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There's Plenty Of Variety On Sexmob's Scrappy 'Cultural Capital'


This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: Since the 1990s, New York trumpet player Steven Bernstein has been the ringleader of an occasional quartet known as Sexmob. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says he likes their attitude.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Bass player Tony Scherr with the quartet Sexmob - that sounds like a name you'd give your group when you're 15. And there's something a little garage bandy (ph) about Sexmob's vibe in a good way. Their new CD, "Cultural Capital," was recorded at a home studio and comes in a plain, brown cardboard sleeve. Brass man Steven Bernstein writes the catchy tunes which are peppered with dance beats from tango to Jamaican dub to Jewish wedding. They can play tight but also have gleefully rude side. Saxophonist Briggan Krauss is their go-to guy for that.


WHITEHEAD: Sexmob's slightly off-kilter sound partly stems from Steven Bernstein's use of slide trumpets, basically a tiny trombone. That makes it easy to micromanage his pitch, sliding a bit sharp or flat for expressive effect. It makes a sound more voice-like.


WHITEHEAD: On Sexmob's "Cultural Capital," Steven Bernstein plays alto horn as well as slide trumpet. And Briggan Krauss doubles on alto and baritone saxes. Tony Scherr plays either bass violin or bass guitar. And drummer Kenny Wollesen makes evocative use of a rattling, hardwood slit drum. The players also overdub a little choogling rhythm guitar so the band will sound thicker than a four piece, as on "Golden House," which gets a Cuban tinge, New Orleans parade beat.


WHITEHEAD: Sexmob may take an unexpected turn within a piece, like when that parade detours into Secret Society territory or maybe into a lost session by Tom Waits.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Who's at the door? Let them in.

WHITEHEAD: There's plenty of variety on Sexmob's "Cultural Capital," with its passing echoes of afropop and The Art Ensemble of Chicago and odd touches like a 15-second wailing guitar solo. Nothing sounds like they labored over too long, almost like it's the quartet's answer to "The Basement Tapes." The music's scrappy, rough-hewn quality is just right.

DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and TONEAudio and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He Reviewed "Cultural Capital," the new CD by the quartet Sexmob led by trumpeter Steven Bernstein.

On the next FRESH AIR, the dark side of Manifest Destiny. Writer Michael Wallis tells the story of the Donner Party, a band of pioneers who set out for California in 1846. After getting treacherous advice on the route, they found themselves snowbound and starving, forced to feed on the corpses of those who died. Wallis separates fact from myth in his new book, "The Best Land Under Heaven". Hope you can join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie and Thea Chaloner. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEXMOB'S "4 CENTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.