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Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Slippery Rock

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Mostly Other Peopele Do the Killing is back! And with it the rightly slandered genre of smooth jazz. This quintet's fifth studio album was penned by MOPDtK bassist Moppa Elliott after a lengthy immersion in the smooth jazz recordings of the late 1970s and '80s. Elliott extracted certain idiomatic phrases, harmonies and embellishments from this superficial and commercial style, incorporated into his own compositions and used all the quartet members' encyclopedic knowledge to shed new light on this often maligned sub-genre.

Fortunately, Elliot and the other virtuoso co-conspirators of MOPDtK— trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonist Jon Irabagon and drummer Kevin Shea—never surrender to smooth jazz clichés or conventions, except for the shocking colors of their suits, captured on the sleeve photos. The group capitalizes on almost a decade as a working band, enjoys breaking down structural elements, sudden changes in tempo, feel and meter, and sneaking in some surprising references, this time ranging from composer Joseph Haydn to minimalist icon Philip Glass.

As on its previous studio albums, MOPDtK opens with a drum solo over a vamp on "Hearts Content," later turned into a fiery call-and-response between the two horns. On this composition already MOPDtK signal that it is about to trash any known Kenny G clichés and expand the vocabulary of the genre to unimaginable territories. The composition titles are still inspired by the funny names of towns in Pennsylvania, as "Sayre," that was founded by relatives of Elliot, a compositions based loosely on transparent compositional conventions of smooth jazz, but the quartet's tight, often chaotic interplay avoids of turning these conventions into a caricature.

Other compositions are kind of left-of-center tributes. "President Polk" draws inspiration from R &B artists like Prince and R. Kelly, but mutate the idiomatic use of extreme high registers to connote emotionality in this genre with inventive and playful solos from Evans, on piccolo trumpet, and Irabagon, on sopranino sax. The energetic, Lenny Pickett-inspired "Yo, Yeo, Yough" features solos from everyone in the quartet, while "Dexter, Wayne and Mobley"—obviously another tribute to great saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Wayne Shorter and Hank Mobley—is but a platform to express Evans and Irabagon's innovative language and extended techniques.

MOPDtK even mange to root "Paul's Journey to Opp" in a muscular, swinging four-bar vamp, rare in its repertoire—or, for that matter, in smooth jazz. Elliot's schizophrenic compositional style is emphasized on "Is Granny Spry?," jumping from a typical smooth jazz vamp to Evans' clever quotes from Haydn's Trumpet Concerto, spiced with Irabagon's nervous sax squawks.

This wild and playful reinvention of the often dismissed genre of smooth jazz takes its clichés to another level. But more important it establishes MOPDtK as one of the most original and resourceful bands of our day.

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; Jon Irabagon: alto saxophone, sopranino saxophone; Moppa Elliott: double bass; Kevin Shea: drums.

Title: Slippery Rock | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Hot Cup Records

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