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Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: On Sly

In a cover of Sly Stone's "Family Affair," Steven  Bernstein's gripping arrangement deftly underscores Antony Hegarty's  haunting croon.<em> </em>
Courtesy of the artist
In a cover of Sly Stone's "Family Affair," Steven Bernstein's gripping arrangement deftly underscores Antony Hegarty's haunting croon.

In the past, many musicians rendered Sly & The Family Stone's 1971 hit "Family Affair" as if it were a picnic jam. Sure, the song is irresistible, with a hook that plays into Stone's penchant for sunny, almost adolescent-sounding melodies. But the words and the singer's weary vocals conveyed a different message about family dysfunction.

Renegade jazz trumpeter and bandleader Steven Bernstein gets it right with his brooding makeover by highlighting the song's darker elements. Antony Hegarty's wounded tenor carries with it a characteristic sense of eerie lethargy, especially in the way his voice quivers through verses like, "You can't cry 'cause you'll look broke down / But you're crying anyway, 'cause you're all broke down."

Bernstein's gripping arrangement deftly underscores Hegarty's haunting croon. The trumpeter discards the memorable hook altogether, and replaces the original's groove with indolent balladry, distinguished by Bernie Worrell's creaky organ fills, Charlie Burnham's electronically enhanced violin and ominous harmonies from the brass section. The blue funk of the original remains, but Bernstein understands that "Family Affair" is no cheerful anthem.

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John Murph
John Murph writes about music and culture and works as a web producer for BETJazz.com. He also contributes regularly to The Washington Post Express, JazzTimes, Down Beat, and JazzWise magazines.