Like the previous four studio albums by self-styled bebop terrorist band Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Slippery Rock begins with a drum solo over a vamp before kicking into the first tune. That's not the only thing that remains constant. Leader/bassist Moppa Elliott
's songwriting talents haven't deserted him either; his charts, named after small Pennsylvania towns, are bursting at the seams with nagging melodies and rhythmic gear changes. Also present and correct are the affectionate nods to older forms and sources, this time particularly the smooth jazz of the 1980s, played simultaneously straight and with a devil-may-care abandon.
Key to the uninhibited subversion are the twin horns of trumpeter Peter Evans
. They are so outrageously talented and quick-witted that they can indulge in almost any fancy and still come up smelling of roses. At many points during this set, if coming in part way through, it might be forgiven for thinking this was a session of backs-to-the-wall avant-garde mayhem, only for trumpet or saxophone to assert a lilting melody, and for the band to kick right back in. Those juxtapositions, mutations and diversions are what keeps proceedings exciting and, above all, fun, making this music to be enjoyed on many levels. But perhaps out of the four, drummer Kevin Shea
provides the most maverick presence, rhythmically astute but boasting a madcap whimsical streak, while Elliott often plays the straight man, holding everything together amid the musical belly laughs that surround him.
From the boozy waltz of "Can't Tell Shipp from Shohola" via the explosive "Yo, Yeo, Yough" through to the laidback lope of the concluding "Is Granny Spry?," with Irabagon's chicken squawk motif, the collective imagination and creative energy are nothing short of breathtaking. On "President Polk," which draws inspiration from R&B artists such as Prince and R. Kelly, the band pokes fun at the idiom's use of extreme high registers to denote heightened emotionality by pitting Evans' piccolo trumpet against Irabagon's sopranino saxophone, but does so through astonishing yet tightly controlled interplay in the altissimo register.
They pack a lot into the three-and-a half minutes of "Paul's Journey to Opp," including several disparate themes and open sections featuring more inspired soloing and interaction, sometimes over a sustained 4/4 swing. For those who find the group's full-on sound claustrophobic, nothing has changed here. These guys play a lot. Like peacocks strutting in their finery, they are as gaudy as the primary hued suits on the sleeve, making their first few albums seem almost tame in comparison. But such is the rate of evolution that, as long as the increasingly busy schedules of the individual members still allow, what dazzling heights they might achieve in future years can only be speculated.
Track Listing: Hearts Content; Can't Tell Shipp from Shohola; Sayre; President Polk; Yo, Yeo, Yough; Dexter, Wayne and Mobley; Jersey Shore; Paul's Journey to Opp; Is Granny Spry?.
Personnel: Peter Evans: trumpet, piccolo trumpet, slide trumpet; Jon Irabagon: tenor, alto, soprano and sopranino saxophones, flute; Moppa Elliott: bass; Kevin Shea: drums, percussion.