All in all, Steven Bernstein spent less than a third of his life in Berkeley. But since it was the first third, and he was part of a precociously creative cadre of young improvisers nurtured by the Berkeley Unified School District’s budding jazz program, the city continues to shape and influence his music some four decades after he made the move to New York City at 17.
The leading practitioner of the slide trumpet, a hybrid instrument with virtually no track record in jazz before he adopted the forlorn horn, Bernstein is a vaunted arranger, composer, and bandleader best known for his raucous quartet Sex Mob. It’s a voracious ensemble as likely to devour a Duke Ellington tone poem or playful Nino Rota theme as a Sly Stone workout or Lynyrd Skynyrd anthem. He founded the Millennial Territory Orchestra after delving into the blues and riff-driven dance bands that crisscrossed the Midwest “territory” in the 1920s and ’30s, research that was part of his work writing arrangements for the Robert Altman film Kansas City. The project took on a life of its own, and every so often when he’s back in town, he convenes a Bay Area version of the nine-piece little big band.
The MTO West plays the California Jazz Conservatory’s Rendon Hall on Friday, Sept. 27. While the repertoire features some Great Depression-era fair, the band takes the loose and limber approach of territory bands and applies it to tunes by Prince and the Beatles, Ellington and the Grateful Dead. Bristling with singular improvisers, the MTO West is something of a supergroup that includes violinist Jenny Scheinman, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, saxophonists Howard Wiley (tenor and soprano) and Rob Sudduth (baritone and soprano), trombonist Jeff Cressman, guitarist John Schott, drummer Scott Amendola, and Sex Mob bassist Tony Scherr.
Sep. 27, California Jazz Conservatory’s Rendon Hall, 2040 Addison St., Berkeley, $25, 510-845-5373, CJC.edu.