Moppa Elliott's gonzo-surrealist jazz group, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, returns for a second album in its piano trio format with Elliott on bass, Ron Stabinsky on piano and Kevin Shea on drums. They are up to their usual tricks here, playing slapstick jazz which flits deliriously through all types of styles and sub-genres like an old Warner Brothers cartoon soundtrack. However there is a more serious added element on this album. Elliott, as he often does, named all the tracks after small Pennsylvania towns. This time, however, they are all towns that underwent some sort of disaster, communities beset by fires, floods and, in the case of Three Mile Island, a partial nuclear reactor meltdown.
Knowing that fact creates a mental disconnect when listening to this album. The music is fine as Stabinsky's giddy blend of cocktail lounge, gospel and blues piano moves swirls together with Elliott's lurching bass and Shea's knockabout drumming, but the track titles invariably bring up thoughts of the human tragedies that occurred in these incidents. The album's press release tries to make the case that the music partially uses the idea of disasters as a metaphor for the conflicts we endure in everyday life, but the real-world calamities represented in the track titles keep intruding on that. In all those cases, lives were lost and homes destroyed.
It is better then to pay as little attention as possible to the album concept and compositions' titles and concentrate on the music. It is enjoyable as the group adds new wrinkles to its sound through the occasional use of electronics. Synthesized pings invade the scrambling piano of "Three Mile Island" as Stabinsky's playing moves from manic freedom to ragtime to gospel, all within three and a half minutes. "Centralia" is hard-charging boogie rock, "Johnstown" is a quiet bass and piano ballad shot through with spacey electronic whooshes and "Dimock" dances along on a sprightly and swinging piano melody while demonstrating how well Kevin Shea's seemingly random, overbearing drumming fits into the group sound.
This trio version of MOPDTK is very adept at carrying on the lunatic legacy of Misha Mengelberg and the ICP Orchestra. Taken simply for its musical value, their latest is a clever and fun ride. It is best, though, not to think too hard about this album's underlying concept.
Three Mile Island; Exeter; Marcus Hook; Wilkes-Barre; Centralia; Johnstown; Boyertown;
Dimock; Wilkes-Barre (alt take).
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