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Published: 2008/02/24
by Pat Buzby

Diaspora Suite – Steven Bernstein


Steven Bernsteins Diaspora Suite is a release on John Zorns label, and Bernstein credits Zorn with helping bring about the disc, which seems fitting. Bernstein makes Jewish music a theme on this disc, as Zorn did in his Masada group, and Bernstein shares Zorns fascination with genre-dipping. (This disc follows hard on the heels of releases from Bernsteins Millennial Territory Orchestra and Sex Mob projects.) However, while Zorns photo could be in a dictionary next to its entry for the word postmodern, Bernstein is less manic and ironic in his explorations, simply seeming to want to explore neglected strands of music and bring them into the present.

Diaspora Suite features a Bitches Brew-scale band (four horns, three guitars, bass, two drummers) and harkens back to Bay Area music circa 1969-‘73. Bernsteins ensemble brings Herbie Hancocks records of that era to mind perhaps more specifically than it recalls Miles theres the same predilection for odd meters and the same more involved (and less funky) writing, and certain instrument choices inevitably bring back memories. Ben Goldbergs bass clarinet immediately brings Bennie Maupin to mind, the dual drum clatter of Josh Jones and Scott Amandola recalls the phased interplay from Hancocks Ostinato (as well as numerous Miles dates), and Peter Apfelbaum has clearly learned the Coltrane phrase arsenal that was required for anyone coming up in that time.

However, the record from those years that comes most specifically to mind is Santanas Caravanserai, when Carlos and company made perhaps their best record by setting off into the desert with loose song structures and lofty jazz aspirations. The parallels have less to do with music than with mood and structure Bernstein also uses crossfades between several tracks, and although both albums include many solos, they are secondary to each cuts function as one part of a suite of moods (funky, ominous, settled).

Theres plenty of hot playing (Sky Blue Sky fans can come here for another Nels Cline fix, although he shares guitar space with John Schott and Will Bernard) but Bernsteins concepts provide the focus that make this Diaspora exploration worth tracking.

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