Bassist Moppa Elliott's cheeky quartet, Mostly Other People Do The Killing (MOPDTK) aims to drag jazz kicking and screaming out of the concert hall and back into the street. In the liner notes to their first self-titled album (Hot Cup, 2005) Elliott wrote ..."I like my jazz with some dirt on it, sometimes a lot of dirt. Jazz has started to take itself too seriously and is in danger of falling into the same stagnant condition that so-called 'classical music' is in now."
Recalling the impetuous antics of seminal Downtown ensembles like the Lounge Lizards, Jazz Passengers and Sex Mob, as well as the zany irreverence of the New Dutch Swing movement, MOPDTK bring a wry sense of humor and volatile energy to the jazz tradition on their second album, Shamokin!!! (named after a small Pennsylvania town that neighbors Elliott's hometown, Scranton).
All four are conservatory trained musicians; Elliott and trumpeter Peter Evans studied together at Oberlin, saxophonist Jon Irabagon at Julliard and drummer Kevin Shea at Berklee. Since then, Evans has become a renowned solo improviser in the experimental scene, Irabagon was a member of indie-folk group Bright Eyes and Shea is currently in over a dozen ensembles, ranging from post-rock experimentalists Storm and Stress to People, with guitarist Mary Halvorson.
As leader and sole composer, Elliott's writing embodies the best aspects of classic jazz styles, melding early swing, bop, hard-bop, blues, boogaloo, samba, bossa-nova and myriad others together in an accessible, but edgy mélange. Maintaining a contrarian attitude towards traditional forms, Elliott's quartet impishly deconstructs hallowed themes with a wink and a nudge.
Elliott and Shea keep the rhythms loose and flexible, peppering them with explosive interjections. They modulate tempos from double-time to free, stretching them to the breaking point by spontaneously abandoning them in furious pneumatic volleys, then snapping back into the pocket at a moment's notice.
Evans and Irabagon alternate between mellifluous harmony and vociferous intensity, often sabotaging each other's tuneful cadences with sudden, dissonant outbursts of almost cartoonish frenzy. Capable of great restraint and tender lyricism, they are equally content unleashing salvos of blistering skronk and gutbucket histrionics, often in the same phrase.
Embracing post-modernism's all-inclusive, hyper-speed aesthetic, Elliott and company use their encyclopedic knowledge of genres and styles to enrich their statements in intersecting layers, avoiding the rote jump cut clichés of their fore bearers.
One of the most infectiously vivacious releases of the year, Shamokin!!! reveals a new wrinkle in the tradition. Historically aware and virtuosic, the wily Mostly Other People Do The Killing is an ensemble to watch.
Personnel: Peter Evans: trumpet; Jon Irabagon: alto saxophone; Moppa Elliott: double bass; Kevin Shea: drums.