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The New Cool: The Cinematic Improvisations of Steven Bernstein's Sexmob

Justin Steyer
Sex Mob's Steven Bernstein blows his horn in the KNKX studios.

When my wife and I first started getting romantic, comparing our musical loves was critical to determining our compatibility. Happily, we love a lot of the same jazz musicians, so the romance began to blossom, and then she asked if I knew about Sexmob.

After a quick blush, she said, “The band, dummy!” I hadn’t, but it didn’t take long to hear what she was so excited about.

Formed in the late-90s in New York City by Steven Bernstein as a vehicle to exercise his slide trumpet, the quartet blossomed into a club favorite, pushing a more avant-garde style of the long jazz tradition of reworking familiar pop songs in new directions. Take it apart, discover the inner workings of a song, then put it back together and have a great time doing it – that’s the Sexmob way.

The band doesn’t play as much as their fans might like, due to the busy schedules of Bernstein, Briggan Krauss (sax), Tony Scherr (bass/guitar) and Kenny Wollesen (drums/percussion), but April 14 will see the release of the band’s ninth album, "Cultural Capital," their first in four years. This is the first Sexmob album to include all-original compositions by Steven Bernstein.

Bernstein’s career has involved a lot of film music. His movie debut was working as music director for Robert Altman’s film "Kansas City," later work including music for "Get Shorty" and the Leonard Cohen documentary "I’m Your Man" – and Sex Mob has recorded their own unique versions of music from James Bond movies, spaghetti Westerns and more. Not surprisingly, his music on "Cultural Capital" has plenty of cinematic moments. Like the best movies, there’s humor, intrigue, confusion, sorrow, passion, and the always present loose groove of Sexmob.

Along with the new album, which you can stream from NPR until the release date, April 14, Sexmob is back on tour. The foursome returns to Seattle for a show at the Royal Room on Sunday, April 16, and you can enter to win a pair of tickets to that show from KNKX right here.

Whether you can make it to the show or not, check out Steven Bernstein’s Studio Session appearance on 88.5 with the all-star quartet Omaha Diner playing the music of Macklemore, Beyonce and Guns & Roses, with Skerik (sax), Charlie Hunter (guitar), and Bobby Previte (drums).

The New Cool airs Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. The program is hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.