Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Red Hot!
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
I've been too busy enjoying the music of Mostly Other People Do the Killing (MOPTDK) to realize how controversial they've become. If you doubt their ability to rile the jazz world, all you have to do is post one of their videos on your Facebook page and wait for the ensuing kerfuffle to begin. The core band is comprised of four virtuoso instrumentalists, free-spirits who think nothing of hopping from honest-to-god punk rock, to free improv, to hard bop, to Americana, and back; sometimes in the space of a single track. Many of their original compositions, written by bassist Moppa Elliott, have the outward appearance of overlooked post-bop and bebop gems from the mid-1950s and early 60s.
In performance, however, they are summarily dissected and reassembled, Frankenstein-like. The result is a chaotic and disorienting experience: a bridge might get repeated and extended for several minutes, a simple drum lead-in becomes an in-and-out-of- tempo solo extravaganza, unaccompanied solos seemingly appear out of nowhere and introduce entirely new melodic and harmonic elements. This is music in which literally anything can occur. An no matter how far afield the band might stray, they always land on their feet, swinging their asses off. Add to this Elliott's mock-serious liner notes (written under the pseudonym "Leonardo Featherweight") and album cover shots that poke fun at classic jazz albums as disparate as Keith Jarrett's The Koln Concert (ECM Records, 1975) and Roy Haynes' Out of the Afternoon (Impulse! Records, 1962), and you have-well-a perfect little jazz shitstorm. And this is just what the world needs right now.
Red Hot gleefully extends MOPTDK's musical inquiries to the pre-bop heyday of artists as diverse as Jelly Roll Morton, Count Basie and Lester Young. Fittingly, the ensemble has also been extended to include pianist Ron Stabinsky, multi-plectrist Brandon Seabrook, and the veteran ace studio trombonist David Taylor. Like the founding core quartet, each of these astoundingly accomplished musicians brings a lot to the table: a magical combination of virtuoso chops, lightning-fast instincts, and a bizarre sense of humor. Seabrook seems particularly well-suited to MOPTDK's modus operandi. His incredibly detailed, hyperactive playing style is somewhat reminiscent of Eugene Chadbourne's, and his electronic effects play a major role throughout Red Hot, particularly on the title track and on "Gum Stump." Stabinsky plays it pretty straight until he gets a chance to step out on "King of Prussia," where he quotes Wild Cherry, Cecil Taylor, Joe Jackson, Scott Joplin, and about a half-dozen others in the space of a minute-and-a-half-long solo. Taylor, the elder statesman, is simply a revelation. The front line of Taylor, Jon Irabagon, and Peter Evans is flat-out glorious.
The writing on Red Hot, is thoroughly first-rate. Elliott's intent is clearly to explore pre-bop styles in a contemporary and unsentimental way without mawkishly kowtowing to the work of past masters. For every irreverent aside and wacky solo, there's the glow of new possibilities emerging from still-valid musical styles that many seem content to simply embalm and enshrine in some sort of museum setting. MOPTDK aren't buying it. Elliot's melodies are sharp and memorable, the arrangements are crisp and interesting, and the departures generally lead to very interesting and heretofore unexplored musical terrains. This music evokes pre-bop musical stylings and treats them with the same zeal and gravity as many contemporary artists would deal with, say, a heavy Ornette Coleman or hip-hop influence. "The Shickshinny Shimmy" sandwiches a lovely slab of post-Miles modal modern jazz inside a Kid Ory-like stomp. Kevin Shea's hybridized jazz-metal drumming is particularly effective here, as is Irabagon's snake- charmer soprano saxophone. "Turkey Foot Corner," possibly the most Dada-istic piece on the album, conflates a Freddie Green-like guitar strum with an ICP Orchestra-like pointillistic improv before the tune itself kicks in. "Gum Stump" has a similarly anarchic intro, but coalesces around a slow Dixie-blues drag. On slightly more conventional tip, "Seabrook, Power, Plank" sounds oddly like a heretofore undiscovered Herbie Nichols chart; perfect territory for Shea's Bennink-inspired drums, Irabagon's gruff alto, and Seabrook's insane banjo. Taylor gets a number of features, but shines most brightly on "Zelienople" as he's relentlessly prodded by Shea's edge-of-madness drums.
Red Hot provides a ready answer to anyone wondering when MOPTDK's schtick will get played out. The answer is "not anytime soon." I, for one, am grateful for that.
Track Listing: The Shickshinny Shimmy; Zelienople; Red Hot; King Of Prussia; Turkey
Foot Corner; Seabrook, Power, Plank; Orange Is The Name Of The Town; Gum
Personnel: Peter Evans: trumpet; Jon Irabagon: soprano and C melody saxophone;
David Taylor: bass trombone; Brandon Seabrook: banjo and electronics;
Ron Stabinsky: piano; Moppa Elliott: bass; Kevin Shea: drums and
Record Label: Hot Cup Records
Style: Modern Jazz