No sooner had Mostly Other People Do the Killing expanded to a septet with Loafer's Hollow
(Hot Cup Records, 2017) than they shrink to their smallest formation to date with the trio release Paint
. Founding member, bassist, and composer Moppa Elliott is joined by pianist Ron Stabinsky and drummer Kevin Shea. Trumpeter Peter Evans
had departed the group before its 2015 Mauch Chunk
album and now without Jon Irabagon
's alto saxophone in the lineup, the sound takes a very different form. But convention has never been the MOPDtK modus operandi and this piano trio is hardly traditional.
Stabinsky, became a regular member of MOPDtK with Mauch Chunk
having previously performed with the group live in 2013 and on the Hot Cup album Blue
(2014). The label (under Elliott's leadership) also produced the pianist's solo outing Free for One
in 2016 as well as Elliott's solo album Still, Up In The Air
. Both of those releases are examples of the astute use of texture, melody, and improvisation but are very different in nature compared to Paint
Elliott wrote seven of the eight compositions with the sole cover being Duke Ellington
's "Blue Goose." As usual, the titles are linked to locations in Pennsylvaniathis time with a secondary color-coded "paint" theme. The album opens in high spirits with the multiple themes of "Yellow House" where Stabinsky's mastery of phrasing, complex harmony, and free playing finds a platform. The pianist rapidly drops torrents of notes through the otherwise bluesy "Orangeville," slowing down to allow Elliott an impressive lead spot. The blues figure prominently in sections of "Black Horse" and more so on the excellent "Plum Run" after it sheds its early waltz specs. "Golden Hill" may go down in MOPDtK history as their musical outlier, if only because it is consistently closer to the jazz tradition. The album closes with "Whitehall," a piece that Elliott originally called "Blue Goose" and changed after learning of the Ellington composition.
Stabinsky is naturally the cornerstone in this setting and he is superb, but Elliott and Shea have ample opportunity to stand out. Shea is unconstrained, providing continuity and seismic shifts in equal measure. His decisively chaotic method is a pleasure to hear in this less cluttered environment. Elliott's basslines are beautifully resonant, his voicings vibrant. There's little rationale for talking about Paint
in the context of other MOPDtK albums given the unique spectacle of sound that defines the larger group. Taken on its own merits, the trio works within taut compositional structures while still expressing boisterous independence; the intense free improvisations are well-placed, sharp and focused. Paint
is one of the best trio albums of the year and highly recommended.