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Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Sirius Juju and Unspeakable Garbage at Jerry's on Front

Geno Thackara By

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Mostly Other People Do the Killing/Sirius Juju/Unspeakable Garbage
Jerry's on Front
Philadelphia, PA
February 16, 2019

Twenty blocks and a world away from the clubs and bars of Philadelphia's city center, the experimental art space of Jerry's on Front is a room one would hardly imagine for music at all. It's a nondescript one-car-garage-sized space squeezed into a row of shuttered storefronts, looking more suitable for a woodworking space or fly-by-night pawn shop. Dimness makes the bare wood and plaster easy to overlook when the only illumination comes from Christmas lights and the fluorescent street lamps outside. Then again, it's also possible the whole place looked a lot tidier before Unspeakable Garbage began rattling the walls at a volume designed to rupture some eardrums.

Moppa Elliott's brainchild is the party-jam quintet featured on the Rock section of his solo recording Jazz Band/Rock Band/Dance Band (Hot Cup Records, 2019) which was being celebrated here for its release weekend, and that material made for a most infectious set to open the night. The bassist led the affair from behind with solid electric lines and the occasional between-song announcement shouted from the back corner. Generally it was the songs that were featured most, each with a nice catchy hook and upbeat groove to follow.

One could have easily thought Bryan Murray at center stage was really the leader—he seized the ears and made sure the wailing saxophone usually landed on the right side of unhinged. Interspersed with his feature spots, such as the mellow good-time funk/wah-wah jam of "Chrome," Ron Stabinsky's keys and Nick Millevoi's loud guitar would take turns bringing the noise instead. The psychedelic "Quarry" took the room into outer space, while the closer "Big Rock" sounded more like an extended vamp around some obscure TV theme straight out of 1985.

If that made a tough act to follow, it's just as well Sirius Juju headed more toward inner space instead. This outfit seemed to have taken some cues from the far-East trance of John Coltrane with shades of Eric Dolphy. Instead of hitting a down beat to start, they gradually drifted from random soundchecking to subtly teasing out a motif with horns and kamancheh (Indian violin). They feel no pressure to jump straight in when a light drone can set the mood most effectively.

Patient focus was the central theme for a continuous hour to follow. Steady rhythm patterns would ebb until they created a mantric trance before gradually shifting again. Two electric basses (a new format for this show) took turns holding root lines or adding lighter shadings around the edges. The whole thing would have seemed like an attentive free improvisation if it weren't for the trumpet and saxophone circling each other in well-coordinated lockstep. However loosely sketched it was, it made an hour where time stretched almost until it couldn't be sensed at all.

Such a lineup could only be properly rounded out by an act as off-the-wall bonkers as Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Still in the piano-trio lineup heard on 2017's Paint (Hot Cup), they demonstrate that even a band in this traditional format can sound as incendiary as any electric fusion outfit. The three dashed off a breezy semi-tropical motif, a snatch of hard-to-follow bi- tonal weirdness and a quick dash of Edvard Grieg, all in the first two minutes.

Stabinsky did turn up the keyboard distortion to the level of screeching static in a couple spots, and things got grungy enough to do justice to an electrified Nirvana cover toward the end. Still, even when sticking to straightforward acoustic sounds, their jumpy genre hodgepodge is electrifying all on its own. A piece might start with a mild melody or toe-tapping bit of bop, but it would only be a matter of time until Elliott's walking double-bass broke into a sprint or Kevin Shea had a controlled spastic seizure at the drums. One way or another, each one would turn into a jumpy what-the-hell-just-happened whirlwind before the end— one trademark of a brain-twisting outfit as defiantly unpredictable as ever.
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