For over a quarter-century, the visionary quartet Sexmob has exploded all preconceived notions of what an instrumental jazz band can be. In many cases — on the albums Dime Grind Palace, Din of Inequity, Solid Sender and Sex Mob Does Bond — they’ve done so with producer Scotty Hard at the board. On The Hard Way, Sexmob’s remarkable new recording for 2023, the music skews decisively electronic, as Hard’s beats and soundscapes provide slide trumpeter and founder Steven Bernstein, saxophonist Briggan Krauss, bassist Tony Scherr and acoustic/electric drummer Kenny Wollesen all the stimulus they need for further composition and fearless reinvention.
Acclaimed pianist/composer Vijay Iyer guests on “You Can Take a Myth,” sprinkling stark sustained treble tones and abstract harmonies on top of fat processed bass (played by Hard) as the composition unfolds. John Medeski (of Medeski Martin & Wood) underlays organ chords and blues phraseology to perfection on “Banacek” and works atmospheric magic with mellotron, counterposing Hard’s evocative balafon samples, on “Club Pythagorean,” one of two tracks included on the bonus 12-inch 45rpm EP. (The other, “Dominion,” was created with DJ Olive.)
With each offering, and certainly with The Hard Way and its rich electro-acoustic groove canvas, Bernstein and crew evince a modernizing impulse but also an equally strong foundation in the roots of jazz and American song. Funky, bluesy, with a tattered dissonance conjured up by Krauss’ throaty saxophone tone, the distinctive wail of Bernstein’s rare horn and the swagger of Scherr and Wollesen’s rhythm section grind, Sexmob continues to chart new paths in 21st -century creative music.