Monday, October 09, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Millenial Territory Orchestra

MTO -- Signed, Sealed, Delivered
In last week's post on Johnny Otis, I wrote that he got his start in the "territorial orchestras" of the 1930s. Of course, to write that, I first had to look up what a territorial orchestra was. Then, this morning, I was listening to the news on NPR when they did a piece on a band called Millenial Territory Orchestra, or MTO. Naturally enough, I turned up the volume and listened in.

As Steven Bernstein explains on the NPR segment, territorial (or territory) orchestras were regional dance bands that wandered the country before big bands and kept alive a more raucous style of jazz than you'd hear on the radio at the time. The best definition I found on the Internet is by saxophonist Hal Singer, who also got his start in that era:
I played in what we called a "territorial band," which was just the best jazz band in whatever region you lived in in America at that time.
MTO is Bernstein's latest effort (after Spanish Fly and Sex Mob) to bring back the original sense of fun in jazz without making it any less challenging or ambitious. It's not an exercise in nostalgia. It's a unique combination of old and new, capturing the spirit of an earlier time but updating it for modern ears. I immediately downloaded MTO - Volume I from emusic, and loved it. I think you will, too.

Here's a killer cut, a 9-minute version of Signed, Sealed, Delivered. Imagine a 21st-century Count Basie rising from the grave and reinterpreting Stevie Wonder. If that intrigues you, give this a listen. But go on and play the whole album; each track is completely different. Others are more "jazz-like" than this one. There's nothing typical on this record.

Update (bonus track): On second thought, I'm not sure the Stevie Wonder song gives the full flavor of how MTO has updated the territorial orchestra idea. So here's another track from the album, a raucous instrumental, also long but definitely worth the seven minutes of your time.
MTO -- Darling Nikki

[MTO, Vol. 1] Also on emusic.
Thanks for this one, and for many others also.
Long life to your site.

My sister used to call remakes "re-creations," and I think this one would fall under that classification. I like it.

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