Steven Bernstein's Diaspora Series is a series of Diaspora recordings on John Zorn's Tzadik label. He takes traditional Jewish music and reworks it in a variety of contexts. From the Cuban and soul influences of Diaspora Soul ('99) to the blues-informed but never obvious Diaspora Blues ('02) to his latest release, the West Coast cool influence of Diaspora Hollywood ('04), Bernstein demonstrates that music is truly universal, and can be moulded and shaped an infinite number of ways to make music that is both timely and timeless.
Bernstein explains it best in his liner notes to Diaspora Soul: "When John Zorn asked me to make a record for the Radical Jewish Culture series, I was left with an enigmatic question. How does a Jewish musician who has spent his life studying 'other' musical cultures make a 'Jewish' record? How does one make a 'Jewish' record when, by nature, all of one's music is already Jewish?" The answer was simple: just follow one's musical instincts. "All of my records," says Bernstein, "are an actual 'record' of an event, a snapshot of my music at that moment, with those particular musicians in that particular space." So, rather than looking too hard, being too considered, Bernstein simply followed his impulses and looked to approach a more traditional Jewish songbook with whatever interests he happened to be engaged in at that particular point in time.
Bernstein’s Diaspora Projects explore the far-flung worlds of Herbew music as it bubbles up in unlikely contexts in a trio of releases on Tzadik. “Diaspora Soul” (1999) digs into “the Gulf Coast sound, encompassing Texas and Cuba.” Its successor, “Diaspora Blues” (2002) finds Bernstein in collaboration with the great Sam Rivers and his trio. The most recent edition, “Diaspora Hollywood” (2004) taps the inspiration of Jewish film composers such as Alfred Newman and Max Steiner, with a West Coast band that includes X drummer DJ Bonebrake (on vibes), baritone saxist Pablo Calogero, bassist David Pilch and drummer Danny Frankel. Fans have praised the recording as an exquisite excursion into “lounge mysticism,” redolent of noirish intrigue.
What People Are Saying...
"In each of the four albums he has recorded for the Diaspora series on John Zorn's Tzadik label, Bernstein has taken a traditional Jewish melody or harmonic pattern and fused it with a different modern musical style. "Diaspora Soul" fused traditional Jewish songs with Afro-Cuban beats and a New Orleans rhythm and blues band; in "Diaspora Blues," Bernstein made transcriptions of cantorial melodies by legendary cantor Moseh Koussevitzky and arranged them from a jazz ensemble modeled after John Coltrane's bands of the mid-1960s, and for "Diaspora Hollywood," Bernstein's arrangements paid tribute to the Jewish bandleaders and composers of the West Coast jazz scene." –Anthony Weiss, Forward
"Steven Bernstein's fourth entry in his ongoing Diaspora series (previously: Soul, Blues, Hollywod) is the most freewheeling thus far, a laissez-faire affair that shifts the recording location, and the sensibility, to the anything-goes/toss-it-all-into-the-mix Bay Area. There, Bernstein, a trumpeter so constantly in-demand the word "prolific" would only make him sound lazy, assembled a nonet's worth of old friends and kindred souls and let them have at it. The results vary in intensity, freedom and level of spontaneous combustion, but the jams are never dull." –Jeff Tamarkin, JazzTimes
Listen to Steven Bernstein's "Diaspora Blues" feature on NPR from 2002.