1/  Stand                                      (Stewart)                     9.16
  2/  Family Affair                              (Stewart)                     5.00
  3/  Sly Notions                                (Bernstein)                   3.11
  4/  Que Sera, Sera                             (Evans,Livingston,Berthiaume) 7.16
  5/  M'Lady                                     (Stewart)                     5.27
  6/  You Can Make it If You Try                 (Stewart)                     5.08
  7/  Everyday People                            (Stewart)                     4.47
  8/  Bernie Interlude                           (Worrell)                     0.42
  9/  Skin I'm In                                (Stewart)                     4.12
  10/ Sly Notions 2/Fun                          (Bernstein,Stewart)           2.39
  11/ Time                                       (Stewart)                     9.08
  12/ Thank you for Talkin' To Me Africa         (Stewart)                     5.29
  13/ Life                                       (Stewart)                     1.13

          Recorded and mixed at Brooklyn Recording
          Engineered and mixed by: Andy Taub
          Assistant: Ben Liscio
          Mix translation on track 12 by Bill Laswell
          Mix engineer: Robert Musso
          Assistant: James Dellatacoma
          Produced by Steven Bernstein, Andy Taub and Jay Weissman
          Executive Producer: Little Johnny Koerber
          Mastered by Gene Paul for G&J Audio
Steven Bernstein: trumpet, slide trumpet; Curtis Fowlkes: trombone; Charlie Burnham: violin; Doug Weiselman: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Peter Apfelbaum: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Erik Lawrence: baritone saxophone, soprano saxophone; Matt Munisteri: guitar, banjo; Ben Allison: acoustic bass; Ben Perowsky: drums; SPECIAL GUESTS - Bernie Worrell: keyboards; Vernon Reid: guitar; Antony Hegarty (2): vocals; Martha Wainwright (4): vocals; Shilpa Ray (7): vocals; Sandra St. Victor (1,9): vocals; Dean Bowman (5,10,11): vocals; Bill Laswell: electric basses.

All music arranged and conducted by Steven Bernstein

          2011 - The Royal Potato Family (USA), RPF???  (Vinyl)
          2011 - The Royal Potato Family (USA), RPF1110  (CD)


Oh, Lord. I could, without a flinch or a bat of the eye, tell you that just the opening cut of MTO Plays Sly would be reason enough to buy this album. 'Tis true, boys and girls: by the time Steve Bernstein and the Millennial Territory Orchestra (MTO) make their way through a 9-minute-and-15-second version of Sly & The Family Stone's "Stand", you’ll know you’ve been somewhere.

Dig it: we only hear a couple seconds of straight-arrow drums/bass thumpthumpthumpthump before the funkiness takes hold, ushered in by guest Bernie Worrell's keys (all buttery and tasty from the opening B-3-flavored dollop). A muted, muttering, wah-wahed guitar begins a dialogue with Worrell while the mighty horns of MTO begin filing in behind them, alternating between crisp punches at the air and soft, multi-layered passages of sweetness. All the while the bass pulse remains a constant while the drums gently increase the nastiness quotient. Worrell begins building a ladder of sound, staying one rung ahead of himself as he leads the way up into the main theme. You'll be tempted to rewind more than once to catch how they make the transition effortlessly at 2:35 – a horn line that you think you already know by heart in your short history with the song gently shapeshifts from a minor flavor to a major; the sun comes out; and there you are – reach for your shades!

Having gotten a firm foothold on "Stand"'s main floor, the band takes its time making their way to the first verse – working the theme without ever letting it drag. At the 3:20 mark, there's a collective drawing of breath, followed by another round of on-the-spot ladder building/climbing; when the MTO horns brace off and let it fly, it truly is a joyous noise.

Enter Sandra St. Victor on vocals – equal parts of velvety soul and fierce proclamation – laying into Sylvester "Sly" Stewart's classic lyrics like she's been waiting her whole lifetime to sing them. MTO and guests know when to give St. Victor room as well as when to move in alongside of her and be bold. The dynamics of the ensemble are outstanding; Bernstein's arrangement keeps the excitement level high with the sonics constantly shifting while letting each musical notion fully develop at the same time.

MTO charges into the final chorus with St. Victor on their shoulders – and just when you think they've taken things as far as anyone could, the music takes a course change. At the 6:33 mark, a short, sharp drum roll by Ben Perowsky flips the switch, zapping the band from brilliant soulshine into midnight-with-your-shades-still-on coolness. MTO instantly latches on to the new direction of things, digging the tension created. Low beams snap up to high beams as the throttle is opened; Worrell, ever the prankster funkmaster, tosses out little passages while the horns offer punctuation and underlines. From nowhere comes a squall of apeshit guitar shred: Vernon Reid is in the house, boys and girls. Reid lambastes his axe; St. Victor testifies; the horns step in, jab, and jump back, driving home the beat. Spiraling up into a wondrous group frenzy, the song explodes, taking its time to settle to the ground in a cascade of massive chunks of rhythm, horns, organ chords as big as the world, and a final soul wringing by St. Victor. Thunder, then silence.

Yes, I could tell you that "Stand" is reason enough to buy this album, boys and girls and it would be the truth. But there's so, so much more.

"Everyday People" opens on a long, suspended chord with undercurrents of burbling bass, drums, and horns flowing beneath while mists of guest Shilpa Ray’s voice floats overhead. When the band settles into the groove and Ray tucks into the tune's sing-song "There is a blue one who can’t accept a green one …" lyric, you can't help but fall right in beside her. (The way Ray and MTO make you feel is what this song was written about in the first place – get it?) "You Can Make It If You Try" is built up, tore down, and built back up again without ever losing the groove. Antony Hegarty contributes vocals and a whole lot of heart to "Family Affair", taking it to the perfect place. "Thank Yoy For Talkin' To Me Africa" is a bit of inside-outside studio kazzam from legendary studio kazzammer Bill Laswell. And the originals that are offered up as homage (Bernstein's "Sly Notions" nuggets and Worrell's "Bernie Interlude") nestle in nicely amongst the variations on Sly. (Check out Matt Munisteri's cool banjo that kicks off "Sly Notions".)

Bernstein and MTO have composed an outstanding, funk-sodden musical love letter to Sly Stone and his work. And we're so very fortunate that they've shared it with the rest of us.

Brian Robbins (courtesy of Jambands website)


Steven Bernstein, the irrepressible and prolific trumpeter, composer, arranger, and bandleader of the Millennial Territory Orchestra orchestrates MTO Plays Sly. A wild, woolly, ambitious, yet reverent take on Sly & the Family Stone's music, spirit, and legacy. This is no mere jazzer's stodgy reading of source material. It's chock-full of Sly's funk, grit, groove, and visionary sophistication. Issued on Royal Potato Family, this 13-track set offers 11 tunes by Sly and a pair of interludes. The nine-piece MTO is augmented by a slew of guests, most notably organist Bernie Worrell, a true contemporary of the man. Vernon Reid and Bill Laswell also lend a hand, as do five vocalists: Dean Bowman, Sandra St. Victor, Martha Wainwright, Antony Hegarty, and Shilpa Ray. Things get cracking in a hurry with "Stand," sung by St. Victor. The MTO's horns and Worrell lead the way with a bubbling acoustic bassline by Ben Allison and Ben Perowsky's on-the-money backbeat. The instrumental intro is basically half the tune and crecendoes before St. Victor enters the lyric with soulful authority, matching the intensity of the band on the refrain. Reid's guitar break at the end, careening over the call and response between the horns, is a monster add-on. Hegarty's voice on "Family Affair" may initially seem an odd choice, but he adds a vulnerability implied in the original. The smoky horns, with Charlie Burnham's wah-wah violin and Mat Munisteri's moody guitar, make this a beautiful groover. None of these tracks misses the mark but "M'Lady," with Bowman on vocals, and Burnham's violin a complementary voice, feed into the chunky horns and Perowsky's popping tom-toms and snare. Worrell's organ just enters the grain of the tune from the top. Speaking of Worrell, his intro to "Skin I'm In," is a set of off-kilter motifs delivered with Sly's good humor: dissonant, classical, gospel, and various Family Stone thematics all lead the MTO, with St. Victor, into the tune. It uses the actual song -- self-empowerment soul anthem -- and pushes it all through jazz and funk. "Time," with Bowman singing, is a slow, soul blues, complete with an extended Reid guitar flameout; it's another winner. Ultimately, it's the MTO whose playing is so tight, instinctual, and empathic in their reaction to both Sly's tunes and Bernstein's charts that makes MTO Plays Sly such a joyous, vibrant album, at least as much for dancing as listening to.

Thom Jurek (courtesy of the website)