Bandleader, composer and trumpeter Steven Bernstein has spent much of the past year leading his Millennial Territory Orchestra through the big hits of Sly and the Family Stone. The ever-influential Sly has been a consistent source for Bernstein — from his years growing up in Berkeley to his time in the early '80s in New York City playing with Vernon Reid and Bill Laswell.
On MTO Plays Sly, Bernstein's downtown aesthetic informs these Sly covers, which are intricate, interesting and, in many cases, unpredictable. To update this classic material, Bernstein assembled top-notch players and vocalists whose collective resumes run from Lounge Lizards to Levon Helm.
In this session, Bernstein led the 11-piece band from the middle of our studio, with Eric Mingus (son of Charles) handling the vocals and free-styling through Sly's well-worn lyrics. The performances of "M'Lady," "Time" and "Everyday People" simmer slow and build into brassy, big-band joy. The band nailed each of these songs in just one take.
In conversation, it's interesting to hear what Bernstein has to say about Sly Stone as a composer, the challenges of pulling together this group of musicians, and the recent spotting of Stone living in a van in L.A. It's great to bring his music back to the fold with this session.