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A Jazzy Look at Prince's Dirty Side

Steven Bernstein re-interprets everything from '20s jazz to an infamous Prince staple.
Steven Bernstein re-interprets everything from '20s jazz to an infamous Prince staple.

Many jazz artists have mined Prince's songbook, but few explore the seedier side of his repertoire. Leave it to slide trumpeter and bandleader Steven Bernstein to offer a jazz take on "Darling Nikki," the infamous '80s track about a woman who, among other things, pleasures herself in a hotel lobby. Given that Bernstein is best known for leading the avant-garde jazz ensemble Sex Mob, it's surprising that he didn't use that group to interpret the song.

Instead, Bernstein chose his Millennial Territory Orchestra, which re-imagines jazz from the '20s and '30s for modern times. Initially, the MTO's version sounds frictionless, as violinist Charlie Burnham quietly plucks out the melody, then embellishes it alongside Ben Allison's prowling bass and Matthew Munisteri's guitar improvisation.

Thankfully, the intensity rises by way of smarmy horn harmonies and pounding drums, until the tune evokes the humidity and kinetic energy of the original, albeit without the lyric. As jazz risks getting confined to stuffy concert halls, Bernstein and company provide a playful and stirring reminder that it still works in less posh places, too.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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