Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Moppa Elliott Brings His Twisted, Hilarious Parodies to Gowanus

Is Moppa Elliott this era’s Frank Zappa? Elliott is funnier, and his jokes are musical rather than lyrical, but there are similarities. Each began his career playing parodies – Zappa with the Mothers of Invention and Elliott with Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Their bodies of work are distinguished by an equally broad and spot-on sense of humor, with a cruel streak. With Mostly Other People Do the Killing – the world’s funniest jazz group – seemingly in mothballs at the moment, Elliott has gone out and made a lavish triple album with three separate, closely related ensembles. The world’s funniest jazz bassist is playing a tripleheader, with sets by each of them tomorrow, Feb 15 at Shapeshifter Lab starting at 7 PM with the jazz octet Advancing on a Wild Pitch, following at 8 with quasi-soul band Acceleration Due to Gravity and then at 9 with instrumental 80s rock act Unspeakable Garbage. Cover is $10.

Where MOPDtK savaged Ornette Coleman imitators, fusion jazz and hot 20s swing, among many other styles, the new record Jazz Band/Rock Band/Dance Band gives the bozack to New Orleans shuffles, Kansas City swing and retro 60s soul music, and attempts to do the same to 80s rock. It hasn’t hit the usual streaming spots yet, although there are three tracks up at Soundcloud. Throughout the record, Elliott is more chill than ever, letting his twisted compositions speak for themselves.

It’s redemptive to hear how deliciously Elliott and the “dance band” mock the hordes of white kids aping 60s funk and soul music. This sounds like the Dap-Kings on a cruel overdose of liquid acid, trying desperately to hold it together. Without giving away all the jokes, let’s say that drummer Mike Pride’s rhythm is a persistent punchline. And yet, as relentless as the satire here is, there are genuinely – dare we say – beautiful moments here, notably guitarist Ava Mendoza’s savage roar and tuneful erudition: she really knows her source material.

The horns – trumpeter Nate Wooley, trombonist Dave Taylor, saxophonists Matt Nelson and Bryan Murray – squall when they’re not getting completely self-indulgent, Mendoza serving as good cop. Guitarist Kyle Saulnier and pianist George Burton fall somewhere in the middle along with Elliott. As an imitation of an imitation, several generations removed from James Brown, Isaac Hayes and Louis Jordan, this is hilarious stuff. The arguably most vicious payoff of all is when they swing that unctuous King Crimson tune by the tail until it breaks: it’s about time somebody did that.

Advancing on a Wild Pitch – with trombonist Sam Kulik, baritone saxophonist Charles Evans, pianist Danny Fox and drummer Christian Coleman – is the jazz group here, akin to a less ridiculous MOPDtK. As with that band, quotes and rhythmic japes factor heavily into the sarcasm, but you have to listen more closely than Elliott’s music usually demands to pick up on the snarky pokes. This is also his chance to remind the world that if he really wanted to write slightly above-average, derivative postbop jazz without much in the way of humor to score a record deal, he could do it in his sleep. But this is so much more fun!

Again, without giving away any punchlines, the length of the pieces and also the solos weighs in heavily. Oh baby, do they ever. They savage second-line shuffles, the Basie band, early Ellington, 30s swing and doofy gospel-inspired balladry, among other things. If you really want a laugh and can only listen to one tune here, try St. Marys: the most irresistible bit is about midway through. Even so, there are long, unselfconsciously engaging solos by Fox and Kulik in the two final numbers, Ship and Slab, which don’t seem like parodies at all. If Elliott has a dozen more of these kicking around, he could blend right in at Jazz at Lincoln Center – and maybe sneak in some of the really fun stuff too.

Unspeakable Garbage’s honking instrumental approach to cheesy 80s radio rock is too close to its endless litany of sources to really count as parody. With blaring guitar, a leaden beat and trebly synth, they devise mashups from a list including but not limited to Huey Lewis, Van Halen, Pat Benatar and Grover Washington Jr. This predictable shtick gets old fast: Spinal Tap it’s not. You’d do better with Murray and his band Bryan & the Haggards, who have put out three surprisingly amusing albums of instrumental Merle Haggard covers.

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February 14, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/19/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album was #529:

Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

We go to the well, or to be precise, to a church in the wilds of Pennsylvania for this one, a hypnotic, often downright macabre 2009 set of originals and improvisations by this dynamic baritone sax/piano duo. Shah’s glimmering chromatics evoke Erik Satie as much as they do Keith Jarrett, livened and eclectically flavored by Evans’ panoramic lines – he uses the entirety of his range including all kinds of harmonics. Yet as bracing and strange as this is, most of it you can hum. It’s a couple of mini-suites, a playful, bluesy Jan Roth cover, and many lengthy passages alternating terse, blues-based purism with murky, often menacing suspense from both instruments. Too obscure to make it to the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from Moppa Elliott’s fantastic Hot Cup Records label.

If you like this you might want to check out our brand-new wilder, crazier sister blog New  York City Music Daily.

August 20, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Charles Evans and Neil Shah in the Bronx 2/28/10

It’s hard to get any more oldschool cool than the duo show by Charles Evans and Neil Shah last night. It was sort of the Bronx equivalent of a house concert, the cutting-edge jazz duo playing in essentially what was the banquet hall of one of New York’s first coop apartment complexes, tucked into a world-that-time-forgot enclave just off 181st St.

Evans struck almost a batter’s stance with his baritone sax, tensed, swaying and ready to hit one out of the park (which he did, over and over again) while pianist Shah calmly delivered a seemingly nonstop series of eerie, otherworldly tonalities, some of the mostly gorgeously creepy sounds heard in any of the five boroughs recently, many of them from their new cd Live at St. Stephens. Some of the crowd, seemingly spooked by the duo’s flickering pitchblende sonics, left during the intermission: the brave souls who remained were rewarded with a far jauntier second half.

Evans’ instantly identifiable sound makes masterfully macabre use of chromatics when he’s not being polychordal, i.e. using majors, minors and every conceivable variant in rapid, often hair-raisingly intense juxtaposition with each other. Possibly for that reason, the opening segment seeemed like an endless series of miniatures, a soundtrack to a midnight spelunking expedition that tantalizingly offered the occasional distant glimmer amidst the blackness that would reappear in a split second, only to disappear for what seemed minutes on end. In places Shah would play minimally, pedaling a single staccato bass note, other times throwing off murkily fluid chromatics while Evans used the entirety of his instrument: nebulous, breathy, atonal passages; strange, acidic harmonics; then hammering out alternately impatient or playful percussion on the valves. Evans is an unsurpassed master of textures, giving most of the choicest, darkest melody to the piano but picking it up at the least expected moments. Shah’s lone composition of the night, What Is It Not, combined the otherworldly spirit of much of the rest of the material while adding a boisterous post-bop edge, Evans going off on a rapidfire solo over a long, hypnotically circling Shah motif that they gracefully faded out.

Their version of Mono Monk (a decidedly stereo composition having nothing to do with Thelonious Monk) saw Evans playing breathy, swaying and thisclose-to-completely-unhinged over Shah’s diabolically terse chromatics. By contrast, a cover of the Jan Roth composition Die Fliegenden Fisch (The Flying Fish) offered up expansive, late-night bluesiness underscored with what by now had become an expected sense of menace. It was a welcome display of fearlessness and refusal to compromise, to do it their way.

The concert series is a neighborhood thing- they don’t have a website, and the program didn’t include an email to sign up for a mailing list. Their next concert features cellist Leigh Stuart and others playing baroque to modern (Bach, Beethoven and Brian Coughlan) at 6 PM on March 28 at the Lounge at Hudson View Gardens, 116 Pinehurst Ave. off 183rd St., two blocks from the north exit at the 181st St. A train station.

March 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

This absolutely gorgeous album – just out on Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s Hot Cup label – is a lock for one of the best of 2009 in any style of music. It’s marketed as jazz, although it could just as easily be called minimalism or classical. It would make an amazing soundtrack if the label could find a film that deserved it. Baritone sax player Charles Evans uses the entirety of his instrument, not just the low registers. He can make it sing, like Gerry Mulligan, but with more imagination, adding overtones and harmonics and a vibrato that he can slow waaaaaay down to Little Jimmy Scott speed. The most obvious comparison, imaginatively if not exactly stylistically, is genre-defying funkstress and ambient baritone sax composer Paula Henderson. Pianist Neil Shah is a first-rate rock songwriter and barrelhouse player, but what he does here is 180 degrees from that – to say that his playing here is haunting is a considerable understatement. Jazz fans will hear echoes of Keith Jarrett, but his real antecedent is Erik Satie. This album, a suite of six pieces, has Shah laying down a frequently macabre, terse mode that Evans colors with deliberateness and precision; other times it’s Evans who introduces the mood and has Shah embellish it ever so slightly. It’s as poignant as it is hypnotic.

The first two pieces are trio suites of their own,  the intial track, Junie, quickly establishing the otherworldly glimmer that will dominate from here on in. Shah expertly works two different palettes, ominous in the left hand, colorful and Romantic in the right, when it comes time for his solo. They take it out with a Messiaenesque warped boogie of sorts, Evans supplying rhythmic accents loaded with implication. The second mini-suite, On Tone Yet, demonstrates the uncanny chemistry between the two musicians: the two play these songs as a truly integral unit, as if a single mind was bringing them to life (or exhuming them – this is dark stuff). Shah’s insistent series of simple chords, switching a single voice among the keys for an effect that goes from subtle to sinister in a split second, veers off into a strikingly cantabile passage and then menacingly back again, is a high point. They float it out with Indian-inflected ambience, sax holding the piano up to keep it from disappearing into the murk.

Mono Monk is the most minimalist song on the album, Evans and Shah emphasizing the space between the notes with as much stern judiciousness as what they play. The lone cover here, Jan Roth’s sarcastically titled An Die Fliegenden Fische (The Flying Fish) is more of a jellyfish, albeit a playful, bluesy one, Evans contributing a pretty, lyrical solo matched by Shah’s Bill Evans-style cascades. The cd wraps up with a nine-minute number with a title that goes on almost as long and fairly neatly sums up the whole set: mournful Satie-esque piano followed by Evans’ most expansive, bluesiest solo of the night; some call-and-response; a pregnant pause, and then sax and piano switch roles.

There are only two drawbacks here. The first is an overabundance of crowd applause after the songs – we’re talking thirty seconds at the end of the cd. That’s Guns & Roses stuff, and while it’s hardly a disaster, it is annoying. It sounds like there were three people in the audience and they’re trying to compensate for it, and they can’t (but what a treat to have been one of those three, in what is obviously a sonically exquisite space!). The other quibble is that, hey, they’re at Saint Stephens: da-da, da da-da-da-da, da-da-DA, da-da-DA, da-DA-da-da-da! Dude, why not do that one? Dollars to donuts these two would do something with it that would make Jerry Garcia proud.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment