Local dance band not so 'Sinister'

Funky swing group got start with Stanford Band

By David Herbert, Mountain View Voice

Labeling Mountain View band Sinister Dexter "swing" is unfair. It's like calling Mount Everest big -- it's just so much more than that.

What makes Sinister Dexter so unique is that it was formed by undergraduates at Stanford during the swing craze of the late-1990s but has since branched out and diversified, today playing everything from blues, jazz, Latin, funk and everything in between.

This versatility can be attributed in part to its steady stream of new band members, according to the group's alto saxophonist Patrick Neschleba, who is a Mountain View resident. The 12-piece horn band formed six years ago, and today, a core of six founding members still remain.

Whenever a musician left the band, a replacement would fill in, inevitably bringing his own style and slightly altering the band's sound and musical direction. The group also stores most of its music electronically, allowing new members to learn and review the band's style and sound.

It's as if Sinister Dexter is the United Nations Security Council, constantly rotating in new members to coincide with the regulars. Or, more precisely, like an organism that is constantly evolving to fulfill its mission, which, according to Neschleba, is simple.

"Our music has to be something that you can dance to, preferably with someone else," he said.

The six core band members met in college, when they were all part of the Stanford Band, a notoriously motley crew that has gained more renown for its hijinks than its musical stylings. The name Sinister Dexter was provided by the brother of one of the musicians, who was commissioned specifically for the task. During its early years, Sinister Dexter played primarily on the Stanford campus at parties and celebrations.

"Tower of Power and Blues Brothers were our original sources of inspiration," said trombonist Don Hoffman, also a resident of Mountain View.

A glance at its new CD titled "Dexterity," the band's first, reveals that the key word is "original." Funk, blues, Latin and swing tracks abound on this album, which is comprised entirely of original tunes. Funky spins "Broadband Connection" and "Jack in the Box" can be found along with more traditional and lyrical, though no less musically creative, tunes.

Today, most of Sinister Dexter's members are out of college and in the 9-to-5 world working jobs including engineering, academic research and computer programming. The band now plays about twice a month all over the Bay Area, most often at the Lost and Found Saloon in the North Beach district of San Francisco.

They are also promoting "Dexterity," which is on sale for $10 at their shows and their Web site www.sinisterdexter.net. And the band is trying to strike deals with Amoeba Records in Berkeley, Amazon.com and iTunes to further market the album. But in the end, the band is just playing to have fun, Neschleba said.

"We just want to see how far we can take this thing."