Mostly Other People Do The Killing: Forty Fort (2009)
Several wonderful things distinguish Mostly Other People Do The Killing (MOPDtK) from almost any other band playing today in the long shadows of Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman. These are, in no particular order: a wild humor; an extreme sense of the angular melody; brave harmonies; and a leaping sense of rhythm. None of these pay any direct obsequiousness to the so-called jazz idiom, but they do not have to. The trance-like omnipresence of the drums throughout Forty Fort makes enough of an offertory to the Afro tradition, and the profane nature in which irreverent melodies are crossed with unusual harmonies is reason enough for the music to bring an elevated sense of joy to the mind's ear.
MOPDtK is at its sophisticated best on this, its fifth record. The music here is sharply ironic and features more complex melodic inventions set against a backdrop of hugely challenging harmonies and gut-wrenching rhythms. In this soundscape, Moppa Elliott and his wonderful sense of harmonic exactitude on the bass drives the shifting pulse of Kevin Shea's drums. Shea is no stranger to inhabiting the fringes of Harmolodic realmsbeing one half of the personnel behind the energy of Talibam. Then there is the mastery of the saxophones in two harmonic ranges and the wild romps of the trumpet that more than completes the picture for MOPDtK. All this obviates the necessity of a pianist on this album, which while not doing the homage to Monk any good, is not really missed.
With Jon Irabagon on alto and tenor saxophone there is no telling where the music will go; his ideas are fresh and he gives them voice in tones that are sometimes gentle and beckoning, at other times raspy and gruff. But the saxophonist is always ahead of the melody, preventing it from getting simplistic by burning new paths with inside out lines and wildly jagged, breathless lines. Trumpeter Peter Evans is never far behind. He delivers brilliant tonal color and lands on, before, or just behind the beat bringing his fresh take on melodies, always with stellar conversations with saxophone. On "Forty Fort" he plays a devastating duet with Elliott, enlivening up the song immeasurably.
The set begins, unpredictably, with a wonderfully tantalizing "Pen Argyll," a sketch that is unbearably beautiful in its jagged and razor-edginess. Its melody therefore cuts deep into the heart of convention and draws colorful blood as it proceeds with meticulous irreverence. "Round Bottom, Square Top," with its pauses and breaks is devastatingly beautiful. Evans' trumpet on this track is laced with magical tinsel dust, it seems, as is Irabagon's alto. Neal Hefti's "Cute" is a magical rewrite too, and with this chart MOPDtK shows itself capable of tackling not just edgier songs, but also twisting more show-like tunes into their own voice.
There is no doubt that Mostly Other People Do the Killing is officially a most outrageously beautiful band.
Track Listing: Pen Argyl; Rough and Ready; Blue Ball; Nanticoke Coke; Little Hope; Forty Fort; Round Bottom, Square Top; St. Mary's Proctor; Cute.
Personnel: Peter Evans: trumpet; Jon Irabagon: alto and tenor saxophones; Moppa Elliott: bass; Kevin Shea: drums and electronics.