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Sex, Slides, and Spy-Film Takes

"Someone called it urban gut bucket. I like that. Others call it dirty jazz or avant-sleaze. It gets sleazy sometimes. We get low-down and funky."

That's Steven Bernstein, guiding light of Sex Mob, on his band's sound. Along with forming the band to gig at New York City's Knitting Factory in 1995, Bernstein plays an unusual instrument called the slide trumpet.

"No one's familiar with it," Bernstein says. "There are people who have played it as background, but I'm the only one who's done it as a lead instrument. It's a really hard instrument to play." The slide trumpet is basically a trumpet-size trombone, where the three keys usually associated with the smaller brass instrument are replaced by the slide that is a familiar part of the latter.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the bandleader's quirky ax, folks took to Sex Mob right away. Time Out New York and both named the group Best New York City Band, and it has received high praise from The New York Times and The Village Voice as well. This Tuesday the band makes its first appearance in South Florida. Although Sex Mob can be loosely termed a "jazz quartet," the group differs from the standard in many ways.

"A lot of so-called jazz shows the girls aren't going to be into," Bernstein says. "But the way we do our shows, you don't have to be a hard-core jazz fan. Everyone has a good time, because something actually happens. And it's not entertaining in a condescending way. We don't play down to anybody. Why play something two people are going to like when you could play something twenty people like?" And in that spirit Sex Mob performs jazzy covers of everything from Abba to Nirvana, along with Prince, the Rolling Stones, and such recent tunes as "Clint Eastwood" by the Gorillaz. This repertoire is a far cry from those of many jazz groups, which often seem fixated on the past.

"Who wants to play jazz standards?" Bernstein asks. "Not me. The thing with all these jazz standards is, what's standard about them anymore? "How High the Moon' was a hit in 1927, so when Charlie Parker played "How High the Moon,' people knew what it was. But now that's not a standard. I play standards. When I play "Fernando,' people don't know it at first, and then they realize what it is. And that's what I'm trying to do."

In keeping with that goal, Sex Mob released Sex Mob Does Bond last month, an album of covers from James Bond films. Many of these songs will be thrown into the mix at the band's show.

"One of the things with playing familiar songs," Bernstein states, "is that there's always something to come home to. You're never too far away from the shore. We may row you out into the lake, but you're always in sight of the shoreline. And I like the shore. I like to have some land around."

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Dan Sweeney
Contact: Dan Sweeney

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