Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra, Tinctures in Time Review
by Nolan DeBuke
Steven Bernstein is back with his Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra and his new album Tinctures in Time. This project marks the first time Bernstein has written original music for the MTO, which from the beginning has exclusively performed arrangements of other people’s songs. The compositions for the project were primarily composed in 2019, a challenging year for Bernstein: Henry Butler had recently passed, and there were severe injuries and death in his immediate family. However, Bernstein got through it by working. He explains, “I was spending a lot of time on planes, going to visit people in hospitals,” he says. “So what else am I going to do with my time? I ended up with all this music.” “The tincture of time” is a phrase Bernstein’s father, a doctor, uses for times when there’s nothing to be done but wait for something to heal. Bernstein altered the expression, so it makes a reference to a favorite Sly Stone tune. And “tinctures,” Bernstein says, also refers to “things that people take to give feelings of euphoria.” That is why he calls this “cannabis music.”
“Planet B” has counterpoint and textures that all combine to form a swirling sound palette that is intriguing. The crisp horn stabs with accompaniment by Matt Munisteri’s guitar are embellished by an well-written melody. The various textures of the ensemble rains down enchanting tempera of sounds, which are playfully intriguing to hear. The sections build up funky percolations and a climax. Bernstein’s music is about colors, melody, and, most importantly, creating a vibe. It adds up to “a sense of music, not of this world,” Bernstein explains, “an altered state that you can kind of lose yourself in. Tinctures in Time is in the tradition of trance music.”
“High Light” continues the trance with a relaxed funky feel. Bernstein says, “when we play music, it’s really about transformative experiences: that was our goal.” Or, as Fran Lebowitz once said, “music is like a drug that doesn’t kill you.” This track brings a classic psychedelic sound, with Charles Burnham’s mind-expanding wah-wah pedal on his violin. The majestic and mysterious melody is supported with interlocking parts and an unstoppable rhythmic undercurrent.
Tinctures in Time finds Bernstein bringing a powerful experience to the MTO that shows he is still an influenced and still-evolving musician. You can hear many musical elements in the music, but Tinctures in Time is indisputably a creative controlled statement by Bernstein that uses music to hypnotize and heal.
Steven Bernstein, trumpet, slide trumpet, flugelhorn
Curtis Fowlkes, trombone
Charlie Burnham, violin
Doug Wieselman, clarinet, tenor saxophone
Peter Apfelbaum, tenor saxophone
Eric Lawrence, baritone saxophone
Matt Munisteri, guitar, banjo
Ben Allison, bass
Ben Perowsky, drums