jazz is PHSH

Sexmob, Asher Fulero Band, Jazz is PHSH review: three degrees of fusion

A Portland triple bill features bands that combine jazz, rock, funk, jam, and other ingredients in varying proportions


Jazz has come to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. So when you combine jazz elements with other styles of music, it tends to make what genre you’re listening to hard to pin down. Is it jazz? Is it jazz fusion? Or is it something that isn’t jazz but gets put in that category anyways? I found representations of all three categories on stage at Portland’s Star Theater one night last month.

Sexmob, the New York based jazz punk-rock fusion quartet, has been tearing it up for twenty years. Their instrumentation, with Kenny Wollesen on drum set, Tony Scherr on electric bass, Briggan Krauss on alto saxophone, and Steven Bernstein taking the lead on the rarely seen slide trumpet, makes for an interesting combination. I’d never seen the the slide trumpet played live before, it looks and plays like a miniature trombone, but sounds very much like a trumpet, with the addition of being capable of playing smears and glissandi typically associated with trombone. I would be hard pressed to name anyone else who played this instrument, a fact I’m sure that Bernstein took into account when deciding to first take up the instrument.

Sexmob’s Steven Bernstein

Sexmob’s music, like their bandleader’s instrument, is equally unique. Yet the ensemble actually does exactly what jazz musicians have been doing for decades. Sexmob comes at you with a staggering variety of styles and melds them together. This is what was exciting about listening to them play. One moment slide trumpet and saxophone are playing familiar pop melodies over a grooving second line drum pattern, the next they are blasting middle-eastern or klezmer infused solos over a raucous punk rock feel.

Alto saxophonist Krauss takes his style straight out of the John Zorn playbook, to great effect, with carefully crafted noise juxtaposed with melodious and rhythmically decisive improvisations. The entire ensemble has a talent that you tend to expect of great jazz musicians: balancing the avant garde with the mainstream. They craft musical environs familiar for the audience, like quoting melodies of pop tunes as they play a warm-up jam, and then take you on a journey through their personal style. Sexmob’s confluence of styles, confident stage presence that could only come from decades of experience, and their ability to achieve these within a wider interpretation of jazz, is testament to the depth of talent these musicians possess.


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