Any concerns that a personnel change would affect the mercurial disposition of the "terrorist bebop band" known as Mostly Other People Do the Killing have been confirmed as unfounded by Mauch Chunk
, the wily ensemble's eighth studio recording for Hot Cup Records. Trumpeter Peter Evans
, an original member since the core quartet's founding in 2003, left after the release of last year's Blue
a perplexingly pointless note-for-note remake of Miles Davis
' iconic Kind of Blue
(Columbia, 1959). Evans' ostensible replacement, pianist Ron Stabinsky
, who first appeared on 2013's excellent Red Hot
, demonstrates great affinity for the group's infamously irreverent stylistic juxtapositions and wry quotationssomething Evans seemed increasingly uninterested in with each passing album. Even saxophonist Jon Irabagon
has been slowly gravitating away from this capricious aesthetic in his own projects, although his unfettered performances on this spirited effort are consistent with the unit's notorious methodology.
Bandleader, bassist and composer Moppa Elliott
continues to write bewilderingly complex hard bop-infused charts for his bandmates to willfully deconstruct, with stalwart drummer Kevin Shea
an especially enthusiastic accomplice. Stabinsky's light touch provides dynamic contrast to the former configuration's horn-dominated frontline, most notably on "Mehoopany," a light-hearted boogaloo with a twist that closes the date on a buoyant note. Irabagon and Stabinsky take the lion's share of the session's solos, augmenting contrapuntal melodies and advanced harmonies with extended techniques, while referencing familiar themes from popular and classical music. Nothing is off-limits: "Obelisk" incorporates eye-rolling refrains from "Do the Hustle" and a droning coda that recalls Philip Glass' minimalism; Stabinsky invokes the William Tell Overture during the closing vamp of "West Bolivar," a sunny bossa nova; and Irabagon channels "All of Me" during "Mauch Chunk is Jim Thorpe," a bluesy shuffle inspired by Henry Threadgill
But not every tune is besotted with witty asides: "Herminie" alternates an Iberian-tinged groove with rousing blues choruses; the episodic "Townville" is a madcap romp through three different themes with freewheeling interludes; and the languid waltz "Niagra," dedicated to the late saxophonist Will Connell (who gave the quartet its first gig at his club of the same name), regales with genuinely heartfelt lyricism. As with most of Elliott's titles, the album is named after a Pennsylvania town, in this case Mauch Chunk, now known as Jim Thorpecopiously explained in the liner notes. Conceptual whimsy intact, this latest incarnation continues to rail against convention with a brash combination of cheeky impudence and stunning virtuosity, recalling events that transpired over a decade ago at a club named Niagra.
Mauch Chunk is Jim Thorpe; West Bolivar; Obelisk; Niagra; Herminie; Townville; Mehoopany.
Jon Irabagon: alto saxophone; Ron Stabinsky: piano; Moppa Elliott: Bass; Kevin Shea: drums.