Heels Over Head
Billy Martin originally met trumpeter Steven Bernstein and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes when they were just starting out playing in John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards, stretching the limits of jazz down avant-garde side streets. Twenty years later, Wicked Knee is the result of their union. Of course, considering the various projects each member brings to the table, it’s a wonder the record happened at all. Martin, of course, is the drummer for Medeski, Martin and Wood, as well as recording with a wide range of artists from John Scofield to DJ Logic and even Iggy. Bernstein leads Sex Mob as well as performing with John Zorn. Tubist Marcus Rojas joins him in Sex Mob, but in Wicked Knee the foursome creates, in Martin’s words, “a small, pocket brass group.”
The sound is New Orleans via Brooklyn, and my, is it funky. A bit second-line, a bit World Saxophone Quartet, this is infectious stuff that one imagines occurring in a late-night jam session. From “Ghumba Zumba” to “Muffaletta,” this is horn music on steroids, with Fowlkes’ trombone meshing with the amped-up trumpet of Bernstein. King Oliver’s “Sugarfoot Stomp” dates back to the 1920s but sounds cutting-edge here, and the group’s low-down take on the White Stripes’ “Button to Button” sounds akin to a marching band run amok. Vocalist Shelly Hirsch ad-libs a woozy “99%,” and by the time “Noctiluca” ends the record, your knees might be wicked from dancing. Heels Over Head is fun stuff!
Originally published Ink 19, 2013