DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Steven Bernstein – Solos – The Jazz Sessions (2010)

A practitioner of the trumpet and lesser known slide-trumpet, Bernstein has defied convention as a composer, arranger and bandleader.

Published on September 16, 2010

Steven Bernstein – Solos – The Jazz Sessions (2010)

Steven Bernstein – Solos – The Jazz Sessions (2010)

Director: Daniel K. Berman 

Studio: Original Spin Media/ MVD Visual MVD5040D 27
Video: 16:9 color
Audio: English PCM Stereo
All regions
Length: 50 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

Steven Bernstein, is a frenetic, interesting musician. A practitioner of the trumpet, and lesser known slide-trumpet, he has defied convention as a composer, arranger and bandleader. He has released three acclaimed albums, and has fronted Sex Mob, and the Millenium Territory Orchestra. He is active in musical scoring for documentaries (I’m Your Man…Leonard Cohen), as well as features (Get Shorty). He has performed with a diverse assortment of artists including Linda Rondstadt, Sting, Courtney Love, and presently is part of Levon Helm’s band.

Bernstein is quick to point out that his inspirations emanate from numerous sources. Solos, a documentary series produced for Canadian television, provided a backdrop for the improvisation link of musician to cultural influence. The opening shot finds an affable musician who states that “I love music…that’s my religion”. This is the essence of this mercurial artist. The documentary consists of various musical “portraits” of disparate individuals such as Sly Stone, Lenny Bruce and Marianne Faithful.

The technical nuances are in full display. On “Donny Hathaway” the precision of the slide trumpet is featured. “Sam Rivers”, uses the standard trumpet, occasionally with mute, as a more caustic sound, approximating a bugle tone, is rendered. It is startling to watch the extended breathing required in manipulating horn play.  Assorted closeup shots examine the fingering of the valves, as well as the slide motions. There is a smattering of anecdotal commentary, as Bernstein relates an auditory connection between a traditional Jewish wedding piece and New Orleans jazz. He divulges his admiration for jazz legends, Cootie Williams and Louis Armstrong.
A trumpet is not an ideal vehicle for a fifty minute improvisation (piano and guitar have the luxury of using chords).  But this episode of Solos manages to delve into the abstractions of a musician and his muse. The visual quality of the documentary is excellent, offering creative angles and lighting.  The various pieces are cultivated by the lush sound recording that focuses on the different tones generated by these instruments.

TrackList: Donny Hathaway; Sam Rivers; Leonard Cohen; Marianne Faithful; Don Cherry; Rosewell Rudd; Dickie Wells; Sly Stone; Lenny Bruce

–  Robbie Gerson

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