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Published: 2009/04/21
by Brian Ferdman

Sex Mob Meets Medeski: Live in Willisau – Sex Mob with John Medeski

Thirsty Ear

Beginning in 1995, Sex Mob served as a de facto jam session at The Knitting Factory for slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein and his fellow New York City jazz musicians. Developing a reputation for playing unusual covers, Sex Mob morphed into a popular touring act as a powerful yet graceful live band. A Grammy nomination arrived with 2006’s Sexotica before the group became in demand by luminaries, such as Levon Helm, Rufus Wainwright, Bill Frissel, as well as dance companies, television series, theatrical productions, radio programs, and more. Their latest effort, Sex Mob Meets Medeski- Live in Willisau, sees them teaming with old friend John Medeski for an inspired performance.

The entire concert has Sex Mob weaving their twisted covers in and out of original work with reprises a plenty. These covers often teeter on the edge of recognizability, as evidenced by the hard thrashing spin applied to Duke Ellington’s previously sultry “Black and Tan Fantasy.” The New Orleans staple “Little Liza Jane” serves as a vehicle for the band to dance in and out of with Medeski’s bubbling organ making its first significant contribution of the show. Seamlessly, the ensemble finds itself wrapped into an amped rendition of Prince’s “Sign O The Times,” complete with Bernstein wailing and Briggan Krauss using his sax to recreate the moaning sounds of dying animals. Of course, the beauty of Sex Mob is that they don’t remain in one direction for too long. Just as the noise verges on grating, they resolve into the jaunty vaudeville of “Down on the Farm,” but before one gets too comfortable, they ramp up the intensity with Kenny Wollesen’s drums sounding like a New Orleans secondline on speed. Naturally, this is perfect territory for a return to “Little Liza Jane” that nearly spirals out of control before concluding to enthusiastic applause from the Swiss audience.

While the controlled chaos is the allure of Sex Mob for many, their prowess with unorthodox covers is not to be overlooked. A closing sequence of James Bond themes, including a brassy exploration of Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” finely encapsulates this entire show. Within this medley of sorts, we find every essential ingredient of Sex Mob: thundering bombast, delicate subtlety, atmospheric eeriness, playful humor, and an ultimate sense of fearlessness. When inspired, Bernstein’s little band feels as though it can tackle anything, and Sex Mob Meets Medeski- Live in Willisau is evidence that they succeeded on this particular evening.

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