Who’s the funniest person in jazz? Wycliffe always knows when to go for the punchline. Jon Irabagon probably plays more musical jokes than anybody else, and Moppa Elliott is right there with him. Put those two together in Mostly Other People Do the Killing – who have a typically killer new album – and look out. Mary Halvorson can be devastatingly funny when she wants; ditto Brian Charette. Another guy with an endless supply of pretty hilarious ideas is Boston-based reedman Daniel Bennett, who has a characteristically devious new album, Sinking Houseboat Confusion streaming at Spotify. He and his long-running four-piece group with guitarist Nat Janoff, bassist Eddy Khaimovich and drummer Matthew Feick have a St. Paddy’s Day gig coming up at 8:30 PM at the third stage at the Rockwood. Cover is $10, the club wasn’t enforcing that annoying drink minimum the last time this blog was in the house there, and if you must be out on March 17, this show should be amateur-free.
The album’s first track is a steady, motoring guitar theme, John Lizard Comes Home: Janoff’s deadpan purposefulness brings to mind Jon Lundbom in sardonically carefree mode. Bennett plays his usual alto sax and also flute on the second number, Andrew Variations, an upbeat, pastorally-tinged tune with a serpentine lattice of voices (and amusing electronic patches) akin to Tom Csatari’s most humorous work.
Bobby Brick Sent Me Daniel Bennett has a purposefully vamping, modal groove and a no-nonsense alto attack from the bandleader, in the same vein as JD Allen’s “jukebox jazz.” The title cut brings back the album’s opening motorik beat, endless success of growling, distorted rock guitar changes and some wry alto/flute multitracks. Bennett sticks with the flute on Paint the Fence, with its woozy guitar sonics and surrealistic Jethro Tull jazz vibe: fans of Prague jamband weirdos Jull Dajen will love this.
Doctor Duck Builds a Patio – gotta love those titles, huh? – is a sort of syncopated take on the opening number: again, it’s like Csatari, but even more surreal and a lot more shreddy. We Are OK! opens ominously, Bennett playing eerily rippling cimbalom-like lines on piano as the tune comes together, a series of echoey long-tone phrases over a steady rhythm and then a stampeding free-for-all.
Poet Michele Herman recites her wry Little Disappointments of Modern Life over Bennett’s solo alto waves and echoes. Then he switches to clarinet for Animals Discussing Life Changes, a waltz, the most cartoonish number here. The album winds up with a spacy, vertiginous, suspiciously blithe reprise of the title theme, Bennett back on alto and joined by Mark Cocheo on guitar.
Although this is fun, colorful music, Bennett has a serious side. He came down strongly on the side of the good guys in that recent social media kerfluffle where Robert Glasper alleged that women jazz fans (“Fine European women,” to be specific) hear with their lower extremities and don’t have the brains to understand solos.
Isn’t it funny how tourists will drop a hundred bucks at a Manhattan jazz club without blinking an eye when they could just as easily see a killer triplebill at Shapeshifter Lab on Thurs, Feb 19 at 7:30 PM for a tenth of that? And the club’s not that far out – if you can deal with the R train for a couple of stops past Atlantic Avenue, you’re there. Or you can even walk from Atlantic if you’re really brave, in this kind of weather anyway. The lineup is on the tuneful/edgy/punk-inspired tip: the trio of saxophonist Briggan Krauss, guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, then baritone sax guy Charles Evans‘ Quartet – who are just as likely to do haunting Satie-esque scapes as they are free-fall freakouts – followed by the world’s funniest jazz group, Mostly Other People Do the Killing.
Halvorson and Fujiwara have a long and productive chemistry as bandmates; the addition of Sexmob’s Krauss brings both knifes-edge acidity and clarity. There are also a couple of albums tangentially associated with this show which have been poking their little faces out from the stacks here. Last year, Fujiwara and Halvorson joined up with bassist Michael Formanek to form a characteristically edgy, growling trio, Thumbscrew. Their album opens with Cheap Knock Off, a swaying fuzztone early 70s stoner metal groove in disguise that somewhat predictably moves further outside.
As the album goes along, there’s a nonchalantly watery stroll that hints at fullscale menace but resists hitting it head-on, with an ominously/joyously pointillistic guitar-bass duet. There’s a tiptoeing strut like a coyly minimalist take on Big Lazy noir balladry that manages to fall apart gracefully and then reconfigure as skronk. Halvorson leads them with an eerie quaver out of a chattering flutter; from there they hint very distantly at a retro blues ballad as Fujiwara diverges and then reconfigures, Halvorson snarling back all the while. The album wind sup with shuffling sideways downtown funk that goes dark and slashing, an unselfconsciously poignant, descending anthem that’s the strongest and most tuneful track here, and a bouncy number that detours toward noirish swing for awhile. Throughout the compositions, Fujiwara is at the top of his game as colorist, Formanek both holding the center and playing the corners with a gritty, penetrating tone. It’s a treat to hear Halvorson in any context, this one expecially, although she shreds less than she can.That’s probably due to the fact that the trio are more focused here on composed material than on jams.
Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s latest album, Blue, is a note-for-note transcription of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Lest you buy into the conventional wisdom that this is somehow revolutionary or paradigm-shifting, classical organists have been transcribing and then recreating improvisations since the days of the Edison cylinder. And these songs are all staples of the jazz canon anyway. What’s coolest about the album is that just as the musicians on it quickly discovered as the project got underway, it’s a great way for listeners to hear it in a new light. Whether Miles really planned to do something radical or just fell into it since he didn’t have any new material and his record label was screaming for a new album, what everybody agrees on is how fresh it sounds. How fresh are these new versions?
Plenty fresh, yet with a well-worn comfort, which is not to call this easy-listening. Saxophonist Jon Irabagon gets to indulge himself in two home run hitting contests, overdubbing both John Coltrane’s alto and Cannonball Adderley’s tenor, walking the line between two challenging and vastly different styles and ultimately choosing to voice neither, to simply hit the notes straight-on with plenty of help from generous amounts of post-production reverb. How does trumpeter Peter Evans channel Miles? Just as soberly, often with a spot-on, utterly desolate, nocturnal feel: the guy has stupendous technique and can playing anything, so this is obviously a walk in the park for him.
And of course all the little things jump out at you: drummer Kevin Shea doing Philly Joe Jones’ little are-we-done-yet cymbal hits as So What fades out; pianist Ron Stabinsky rippling through Wynton Kelly’s opening riffage on All Blues (where did THAT come from?); bassist Moppa Elliott gamely trying to capture every nuance and almost-crunched note off Paul Chambers’ strings on Blue in Green; and Flamenco Sketches, which reinforces the observation that it’s hard to to imagine a lot of players these days giving each other as much space, and the all the angst and depth that implies, as Miles’ quintet did with the original. What the band ends up with here is pretty much what Miles got: blues-tinged gravitas and spare, rather creepy grooves that are the pure essence of noir.
Guitarist Jon Lundbom is one of the Hot Cup Records crew, associated with notorious/uproarious jazz parodists Mostly Other People Do the Killing. As you might expect, his music shares that group’s corrosive sarcasm, but that’s only part of the picture. For Jeremiah, his seventh album with his long-running band Big Five Chord, he’s brought back the usual suspects – Jon Irabagon on soprano sax, Bryan Murray on tenor and balto (hybrid baritone/alto) saxes, Moppa Elliott on bass and Dan Monaghan on drums along with Sam Kulik on trombone and Justin Wood on alto sax and flute. They’re playing the album release show next Wednesday, Feb 4 at 10 PM at Cornelia Street Café; cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum.
As the title implies, the album is an instrumental jeremiad, more or less. The bustling energy and keenly focused improvisation of Lundbom’s previous live album, Liverevil, take a backseat here to disquiet, anger and cynicism. In a city where the elite jazz players who still remain are often forced to take cheesy folk club gigs backing wannabe American Idol girls just to be able to make rent for another month, that anger shouldn’t come as any surprise.
And yet, the horn charts throughout the album have an unselfconscious, understated poignancy and bittersweet beauty. The opening track, The Bottle is not the Gil Scott-Heron classic but a Lundbom original named after a town in Alabama (he stole the concept from Elliott, whose repertoire is littered with Pennsylvania place names). And it’s full of sarcasm – although Alabama doesn’t seem to factor into it. It sways and shuffles, with snide, offcenter horns, a busily bubbling, more-or-less atonal solo from Lundbom and some neat contrasts between Murray’s squall and the rhythm section’s hypnotically waterfalling drive.
The next Alabama song (these compositions are about as Alabaman as Kurt Weill) is Frog Eye, with its lustrous, majestic if uneasy horn arrangement punctuated by chirpy pairings between Irabagon and Elliott, Lundbom lurking in the shadows before emerging with a smirk. The third one, Scratch Ankle opens somewhat the same before conversations between the horns go their separate ways.
Lick Skillet, which may or may not be a Tennnessee reference, pairs an irresistibly funny, Spike Jones-ish intro from Kulik with another astigmatically glistening horn chart and a spoof on latin flute funk. First Harvest, a wiccan song recorded on Lundbom’s previous album, gets a morosely terse new arrangement by Wood that Murray and Irabagon take up a notch. By contrast, W.P.S.M. takes a jauntily shuffling New Orleans-inspired strut outward, agitatedly..but then Elliott rescues it with some classic comic relief. The album winds up with Screamer, a loose, easygoing jam that seems tacked on for the hell of it. Who is the audience for this? People who like edgy sounds, and jazz with a vernacular that relies less on tunesmithing than creating and maintaining mood. This isn’t an album to lull you to sleep or dull your hangover but it sure as hell will make you feel something. It’s not officially out yet, although the first tune is up at Soundcloud.
The lure of Winter Jazzfest over the last decade or so has been the potential for serious bang for the buck: a marathon of jazz festival stars, cult heroes and heroines jammed into two nights on the Bleecker Street strip. Like the best jazz improvisation, Winter Jazzfest can be transcendent. By the same token, recent years have had many maddening moments, lines outside the clubs gowing to ridiculous proportions, especially as crowds armed with ostensibly all-access passes reached critical mass during the Saturday portion of the festival.
Solution: move the bigger draws to bigger venues. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society sure to sell out a Saturday night gig (which they did, no surprise)? Move ‘em to the expansive, sonically exquisite confines of Subculture. Henry Threadgill leading a new ensemble through an American premiere? No problem. Stick ’em in Judson Church, a comfortable stone’s throw from the West 4th Street subway. This may have been a long overdue move on the part of the festival’s producers, but it couldn’t have been more successful. By midnight, a couple of venues were filled to capacity, but although crowds at the other spaces were strong, there was plenty of room for everybody who was still up for more music.
Argue’s big band threatened to upstage everything else on Saturday’s bill. How does the composer/conductor keep so much suspense and intensity going when his changes tend to be so static and often so far between? With endlessly surprising, constantly shifting voices, subtle rhythmic variations and a voracious approach to blending genres: the foundations of his songs may go on for what seems forever, but there are a million tunes wafting overhead. They opened with All In, a steadily strolling, spicily brassy homage to the late trumpeter Laurie Frink, its centerpiece being a thoughtfully energetic Nadje Noordhuis trumpet solo. From there they dove into the opening suite from the ensemble’s latest album Brooklyn Babylon (rated #1 for the year at this blog‘s Best Albums of 2013 page). The whole group reminded how much fun, not to mention aptitude, they have for Balkan music, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen wowing the crowd with her blazing chromatics. From there, Adam Birnbaum’s creepy music box piano kicked off the jackhammer optimism of The Neighborhood, roaring boisterousness juxtaposed with uneasily flitting motives from the reeds. Argue brought that disquiet front and center by fast-forwarding to the brooding Coney Island; they closed with a pastoral Levon Helm dedication, Last Waltz for Levon, featuring a moody, wistful Ryan Keberle trombone solo and a similarly bittersweet duet for Sebastian Noelle’s strummed acoustic guitar and Matt Clohesy’s bass..
Over at Judson Church, the crowd gathered slowly in anticipation of Threadgill’s set and was treated to a magically crepuscular one from pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and violinist Mark Feldman, the duo alternating compositions. He built to a bracing series of glissandos and trills on his opening number over her hypnotic, harplike inside-the-piano brushings; she followed with a resonant, lingering piece that rose to a creepy altered boogie of sorts. They gave a Feldman suite based on the Orpheus/Eurydice myth a dynamic intensity, brooding sostenuto up against angst-fueled swells and ebbs and ended on a quieter, more suspenseful note with a Courvoisier work.
Threadgill was on the bill to conduct the American premiere of his Butch Morris tribute Old Locks and Irregular Verbs with his new Ensemble Double Up. This turned out to be very much like Morris at the top of his game. Rather than playing purely improvised music, Morris’ larger ensembles would develop variations on a theme or two, sometimes utilizing a couple of pages of composition, and this suite had that kind of ring. Pianist Jason Moran opened with a mournfully elegaic, spaciously funereal, bell-like introduction that rose from stygian depths toward the kind of blues/gospel allusions that Morris liked to employ. From there Threadgill introduced a classically-tinged, anticipatory theme that Jose Davila’s tuba propelled upward in methodical stairstepping waves in tandem with Craig Weinrib‘s trap drums, Curtis Macdonald and Roman Filiu’s alto saxes blustery and atmospheric in turn over cellist Christopher Hoffman’s uneasy ambience. The group followed the long first movement with two shorter variations, the first opening with dancing, bubbly reeds and fluid upper-register piano, the second kicking off with glimmering resonance from pianist David Virelles, moving toward a distant overture of sorts and a bittersweetly triumphant if somewhat muted coda. It made for an aptly elegant sendoff for a guy who did so much, so elegantly, for largescale improvisation.
Over in the boomy sonics of Vanderbilt Hall at NYU Law School, Mostly Other People Do The Killing had some of the crowd doubled over laughing and some of the older attendees scratching their heads. New York’s funniest, most entertaining band in any style of music, never mind jazz, have a new album out, Red Hot, which parodies every 20s hot jazz trope ever ground into shellac, and the group aired out several of those tunes with characteristically unstoppable verve. What makes MOPDtK so funny is that they really know their source material. For fifteen-second intervals, it was easy to get into toe-tapping mood…but then the band would do something wry or droll or ridiculous and throw a wrench in the works. Trumpeter Peter Evans built an echoey, reverb-infused vortex with endless swirls of circular breathing early on, which bass trombonist David Taylor took to vastly greater deep-space extremes later in the set.
Pianist Ron Stabinsky got plenty of laughs out of a solo that was mostly pregnant pauses, then got people howling with a medley of licks that began in the jazz pantheon but then spanned from Billy Joel to Foreigner…and then to Bach and Beethoven. Bassist/bandleader Moppa Elliott, drummer Kevin Shea and guest guitarist Jon Lundbom seemed preoccupied with getting the brief period-perfect bits back on track while Evans and alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon (who’d just played tenor and bass clarinet for Argue) engaged in characteristically snide, mealymouthed banter. It wouldn’t be fair to give away the rest of the jokes that continued throughout compositions with titles like Seabrook. Power. Plant. (named after frequent MOPDtK guest Brandon Seabrook’s band as well as three towns in Pennsylvania), the Shickshinny Shimmy, Turkey Foot Corner and King of Prussia.
Eyebone, guitarist Nels Cline’s eclectically assaultive, swirling power trio with drummer Jim Black and pianist Teddy Klausner was next and made a similarly energetic alternative to Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, who were scheduled to hit around the same time at the church up the block. They opened with jarringly percolating, fleetingly leaping phrases from Cline’s loop pedals and then hit a deep-water ominousness, went into atmospherics and then a riff-driven, metalish interlude. Klausner followed a Cline descent into messy, muddy terrain with one of his own, then the band brought it up with a roar, ending their set with an aggressiveness that made a great segue with Elliott Sharp’s Orchestra Carbon.
E-Sharp didn’t even play guitar in this set, but his tenor sax work mirrors what he does on the frets. It was cool to see the man of a million notes and ideas leading the group through a defly animated workout on minimalist chamber themes. His vigorous, emphatic direction and playing were mirrored by the ensemble, heavy on the low end with twin basses and trombones, Jessica Pavone and Judith Insell on violas plus Jenny Lin on piano and Danny Tunick nimbly negotiating between drums, various percussion and vibraphone. They kicked off with a mighty, Zarathustra-ish theme punctured by the occasional squall or shriek, blustery diversion or Braxton-esque atmospheric swell. Sharp carved out lots of pairings: Pavone an anchor to Lin’s rapidfire knuckle-busting octave attack, the trombones channeling a stormy orchestral bustle, filling the sonic picture from bottom to top, the basses doing the same later on. Sharp filled the brief spaces between movements with fleeting, supersonic upper-register passages and frantic flurries of bop, eventually bringing everything full circle with a series of long, suspenseful, almost imperceptibly crescendoing waves upward.
And that’s where the night ended on this end. There was still plenty going on – fusiony funk downstairs at le Poisson Rouge, and was that Craig Handy coincidentally leading that organ groove outfit at Groove? The place was packed; it was hard to see. And the line for the Marc Cary Focus Trio at Zinc Bar stretched around the block – good for him. Matthew Shipp’s trio set back at Judson Church wasn’t scheduled to start yet, but by this time, the prospect of a third consecutive marathon evening of music looming on the horizon and the rain having finally let up, it was time to take advantage of a grace period from the skies and call it an evening. Here’s looking forward to Winter Jazzfest 2015.
Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s latest release on their Hot Cup label, Red Hot, is the great lost Spike Jones instrumental album. It’s the New York band’s most cartoonish, and also most accessible album: punk jazz doesn’t get any better, or more caustically funny than this. Bassist/bandleader Moppa Elliott insists that this is the best thing the group has ever done, and he’s right. Over the past few years, MOPDtK have parodied everything from post-Ornette sounds to 70s and 80s elevator jazz. But with 20s hot jazz trending hard with the one-percenters, it became obvious that the time was right for the Spinal Tap of jazz to give this genre a vigorous twist to put it out of its misery. This is one sick record. This time out, the core of the band, including Elliott, drummer Kevin Shea, saxophonist Jon Irabagon and trumpeter Peter Evans is bolstered by bass trombone legend David Taylor, pianist Ron Stabinsky and banjo shredder Brandon Seabrook.
Underneath the incessant jokes, there’s a method to the madness. They bedevil each other with the uneven meters common in hot jazz. Seabrook adds an ever-present mosquito buzz as he tremolo-picks his strings, ad nauseum: even if you love the banjo, you will get sick of hearing from him. That’s part of the plan. Taylor, the first bass trombonist to ever play a solo show at Carnegie Hall, is in his eighth decade and has never tired of taking on a challenge, and fits in perfectly: he’s one of the funniest members of the cast.
As usual, most of the song titles refer to Pennsylvania towns. The Shickshinny Shimmy works a vaudevillian swing with droll comedic japes from the banjo and bass trombone, morphing into a vaguely latin vamp and then back; a simplistic three-chord cliche gets in the way. Zelionople opens with a ridiculously long drum solo and then shuffles along with repeated breaks for tomfoolery every time the bass and drums drop out, a trope that repeats throughout the album with surprisingly interesting results. Taylor’s silly downsliding hands off to Evans, who disappears with a clam in his throat, then reappears as Irabagon shadows him with his tongue stuck out.
The title track, a tongue-in-cheek march, goes doublespeed a la Spike Jones, Irabagon having a field day, mealymouthed and psyched to halfheartedly spoof dixieland along with the rest of the band. King of Prussia has a priceless ADD piano intro and solo from Stabinsky, spitball-in-waiting suspense from Seabrook and dorky acents from Evans. Turkey Foot Corner has Elliott imitating a tabla and introducing a barnyard scenario, Taylor aptly quoting a familar Wizard of Oz lick, Evans’ not-quite-there solo over Seabrook’s omnipresent deadpan woodpecker banjo.
Seabrook, Power, Plant explores the Romany influence on hot jazz, working its way down to a Nino Rota-on-acid bolero. Orange Is the Name of the Town jams out a faux sentimental waltz with weepy muted trumpet accents and a long interlude that Stabinsky slowly and hilariously unravels, lefthand and righthand oblivious to each other.
There are two more tracks. Gum Stump makes fun of blues cliches, Shea’s refusal to stay on track one of the album’s best jokes, Seabrook and Taylor muttering their disapproval. The last track, a hi-de-ho Cab Calloway shuffle, is a mess by the time they hit the second turnaround, Irabagon mealymouthing his first solo and practically regurgitating his second one, going out on a deadpan serious note. Don’t count on that next time around. The album comes complete with liner notes by “Leonardo Featheweight,” this time taking the story of a smoldering Pennsylvania ghost town to its logical conclusion.
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord recorded a live album at Brooklyn Fireproof in Bushwick last night. It’s going to be a good one. It’s surprising that more artists, even in jazz, don’t record more concert albums, considering how much more energy there almost inevitably is performing in front of an audience. Much as the band seemed well-rehearsed, as it turns out, they weren’t: their confidence and lively, electric interplay stem from years of playing together. That, and a shared esthetic. Lundbom is an eclectic guitarist and composer who can play perfectly straightforward postbop but more often than not brings sardonic humor or downright viciousness to the music. This time out, Lundbom alternated between restless unease and a more relaxed, legato attack, setting the tone for a night of goodnatured jousting and moments of pure ecstatic bliss. Joining him were Bryan Murray on the small and unexpectedly low-register “balto” and tenor sax, intertwining and conversing with Jon Irabagon‘s alto sax, Matt Kanelos’ electric piano, Moppa Elliott’s bass and Dan Monaghan’s drums.
The first set was swing shuffles. It was practically comedic to watch Elliott (ringleader of Mostly Other People Do the Killing, arguably New York’s most entertaining live band) walking the bass tirelessly: it was obvious that he couldn’t wait to leave the rails. When he did, it was usually to run permutations on clenched-teeth, percussively circular riffage. While there ws a sextet onstage, the moments when the whole unit was playing were mostly limited to intros and outros, much of the soloing supported simply by bass and drums, Kanelos holding back to a spare, spacious, sostenuto suspense. As Murray swayed and built from a sputter of sparks to a fullscale wail, Elliott’s fingers became a blur of roaring, tremoloing chords, enhanced by the room’s natural reverb. When the song came back to Lundbom – playing a Telecaster through a Fender amp – he took his time, letting the sonics echo for all they were worth.
Kanelos shadowed Lundbom’s murky, enigmatically insistent single-note runs over swirling snowstorm cymbals as the opening number went on, Irabagon taking over the center, nonchalantly holding it together as the rhythm loosened. Lundbom has a kinetic, spring-loaded stage presence, opening the second number with a long solo, working tensely against a central tone, Kanelos echoing that device a little later on with an aching intensity before leaping into unexpectedly purist blues, the band joining him in a split second. Good jokes abounded: Irabagon falling into a deadpan bup-bup-bup until Lundbom finally stepped all over it and wiped the slate clean; Murray and Irabagon playing good cop vs. bad cop on the second of three Lundbom arrangements of old wiccan songs until both horns decided to make a mockery of the blues. The last of the wiccan songs was the only one that the band allowed to go on long enough to reveal its origins as a sad folk tune in waltz time. Ultimately, they made their own sorcery out of it. If the second set was anything like the first, it’s a good thing they got this whole thing in the can.
Humor is supposely based on cruelty 90% of the time, right? If that’s the case, New York supergroup Mostly Other People Do the Killing are the world’s cruelest jazz band. Since the early zeros they’ve skewered just about every jazz trope: they’re sort of the Spinal Tap of the genre. Ostensibly, their new album Slippery Rock, out on their Hot Cup label on Jan 22, is a parody of 70s and 80s elevator jazz. There are places where the satire is obvious but just as many when it’s not, which is partly because the band stick to their acoustic sax/trumpet/bass/drums format rather than employing synthesizers and drum machines, and partly since there are interludes where the band find themselves shuffling along with an amiable, brightly second-line-tinged flavor, unselfconsciously attractive despite themselves. When the jokes are most vivid, it’s most often when Peter Evans’ trumpet and Jon Irabagon’s alto sax join together for a simpering, cloying hook, fall away from it, turn back on it and then take swipes or rip it to shreds. Bassist Moppa Elliott and drummer Kevin Shea’s satire here is more subtle – no grooves, especially the smooth ones, are safe from parody. The dumber and simpler they are, the dumber and simpler they make them.
The operative question is how many other jokes are here – probably a lot – and who is going to get them. For better or worse, this album is kind of like making fun of wallpaper. People who make it and sell it (and maybe who rip it off the walls and trash it) might get the jokes, but who else? These guys have obviously done their homework, but ask yourself, would someone who claims to like Kenny G actually be able to name song titles, let alone hum you a tune or two?
Be that what it may, there’s still a lot of fun here. The opening track spoofs funk-jazz grooves and romantic slow-jam ambience with a quote that’s too funny to give away. Can’t Tell Shipp from Shohola (a reference to Elliott’s beloved native Pennsylvania) works familiar MOPDtK territory, hinting at an easygoing triplet vamp that nobody’s willing to officially admit exists. Sayre (another Keystone State shout-out) layers bop over a ridiculous bump-BUMP rhythm that hints at reggae, the horns eventually finding it too hard to resist hamming it up.
Irabagon pillories cluelessly ostentatious sax breaks on President Polk; Evans’ nervously rapidfire cameo on Yo, Yeo, Yeough and its altered disco beat is just as funny. Dexter, Wayne and Mobley, a parody of homages, is pretty priceless, its pastiche making no sense whatsoever. Jazzy tv themes get their due on the mealymouthed, chattering Jersey Shore, while Paul’s Journey to Opp reverts to the generalized messing it up of the band’s prior catalog, having fun with dissecting a too-bright-to-be-true vamp. The album closes with Is Granny Spry?, Irabagon and Evans quoting from both the classics and tv over a groove that’s so absurdly artless that it’s impossible not to laugh.
To fully appreciate how entertainingly vicious this band can be, get their 2009 album This Is Our Moosic – although ageless jazz critic Leonardo Featherweight’s liner notes on this one are especially LMFAO, enough to justify the price of a cd. The band are on European tour in February, with a return to New York on Feb 28 at the Cornelia St. Cafe.
Guitarist Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord come out of the irreverent Hot Cup Records camp. In their world, nothing is off limits. Humor is always either front and center or lurking around the corner; anger is wholeheartedly embraced; tradition calls for mockery. Punk jazz? Esthetically yes, chopswise no: these guys – bassist Moppa Elliott, saxophonists Jon Irabagon and Bryan Murray and drummer Dan Monaghan – can flat-out play. Lundbom’s previous album Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! mined a savagely satirical vein. His new one, sarcastically titled No New Tunes is considerably subtler. It’s not particularly easy listening. Nothing ends with any kind of resolution. Tonalities lean toward harsh veering on abrasive; structures fall apart on a moment’s notice, but more elegantly than you would expect in this band’s kind of music, considering that the group shares members with Mostly Other People Do the Killing and twisted Merle Haggard cover band Bryan & the Haggards.
A Steve Coleman sample and pummeling, assaultive drums kick off the opening track, The Bad! Thing, leading into a wandering, uneasy guitar solo in 6/4 time, working its way through jagged jousting, rumbling chaos and a sideways, walking swing that ends unresolved. Lundbom plays without effects through what sounds like a vintage Fender Twin amp with plenty of natural reverb and just a tinge of distortion that fits his sometimes offhandedly dismissive lines well. The album’s closing track, an almost shockingly straight-up bop swing tune, is a case in point, its centerpiece being a long, amusing interlude where Lundbom simply will not go off task, holding the center even though nobody else is, refusing to cave to peer pressure until he’s made his point.
Titles are giveaways here. Talent for Surrender is an example of how bandmates can keep just enough distance from each other without completely losing track, shifting through airy convergent harmonies to skronky bop, squiggling Sonny Rollins-influenced sax contrasting with unexpectedly terse rhythm. And Be Made Visible takes at stab at a ballad: not to spoil a good joke, but Murray’s faux romanticisms after an unfulfilled, searching Lundbom solo are…well, what you would expect from this band.
The Other Third One pulses briskly through agitated, spinning bop, sarcastic skronk and a tasty, shivery, casually assaultive Lundbom solo over a rather tongue-in-cheek, too-terse-to-be-true rhythm section. And Follow the Swallow plays unexpectedly low-key, offcenter variations on a bouncy swing ditty, Irabagon refusing to cede centerstage even when Lundbom makes it clear he’s no longer welcome there. That’s the kind of moment that defines this band, and there are lots more of those here: it’s cool to see how these guys have such confidence in what they’re doing that they refuse to take each other seriously. Like many of their scenemates, the band is making this album available on vinyl as well as a download: if you’re looking for a cd, you’ll have to burn one. Although the sound quality of the vinyl (not reviewed here) is bound to be superior to any digital format.
This album is hilarious. The thing to keep in mind about Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord is that they have an alter ego, Bryan and the Haggards, who play twisted covers of Merle Haggard songs. That “other” band’s lone release (so far), Pretend It’s the End of the World was one of the funniest and best albums of the past year. This new album, credited to Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord and titled Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers!, follows in the same vein. On one hand, it’s a surprisingly straight-up groove album, but all those grooves, and most of the surprisingly memorable tunes, are ultimately nothing more than fodder for satire and destruction. As you would expect from these guys, it’s cruel and funny and kind of punk although the band has pretty awesome chops for a punk jazz band: Lundbom on electric guitar, Jon Irabagon on alto sax, Bryan Murray on tenor and balto sax, Moppa Elliott on bass and Danny Fischer on drums along with guest Matt Kanelos (leader of plaintively tuneful Americana soul band the Smooth Maria) on electric piano.
The first track is the most straight-ahead, kicking off with an animated Irabagon/Lundbom conversation over Fischer’s deadpan leaden pulse. The guitar picks up a loop, saxes converge and diverge and then Lundbom plays an absolutely stunning chorus-box solo that finally goes off into skronk at the end. That’s for the adrenaline junkies. Kanelos’ astringent, hypnotic, Herbie Hancock-tinted riffage anchors the second track, The Bravest Little Pilot No. 2. As expected, Irabagon veers quickly from lyrical to satirical; Kanelos echoes that a bit later on, steady and increasingly unsteady as it winds down with unexpected grace. Ears Like a Fox is LOL funny, a R&B satire straight out of the Mostly Other People Do the Killing school of deconstruction. Everybody eventually picks up a cheesy riff and then shoots spitballs at it while Fischer finally hits a tongue-in-cheek groove with cluelessly blustery early Ringo style cymbal work.
Taking its name from a fish delivery service, Meat Without Feet has what sounds like a hip-hop beat chopped and backward masked, except that it’s live. It’s a great song – Elliott’s insistent bass chords join in lockstep with a trudging Fischer as Murray takes a long, completely over-the-top, kazoo-like solo on his “balto” sax, Lundbom coming in gingerly and then somewhat sternly working the edges of the melody, as if to say, c’mon guys, get it together. They segue into the fifth track, New Feats of Horsemanship, a brutal slow ballad satire – the savage joy of Murray’s completely unhinged mockery has to be heard to be appreciated. They close with Faith-Based Initiative – you know from the title that it has to be a joke, and it is, a silly go get ’em horn theme and cruel variations. As Elliott runs a deadpan, percussive staccato riff, Fischer lopes across the toms and eventually decides to start hitting on the “one,” one of the funniest moments here among many, matched by Lundbom’s alternate octaves and crazed tremolo-picking and then Irabagon’s constipated elephantine grunting as the rhythm section staggers away, aghast. On one level, it hurts a little to give away all these punchlines; on the other hand, no words could really do justice to them. The album is out now on Hot Cup Records – you’ll see this here at the end of the year on our best of 2011 list if we get that far. Lundbom and his merry band play the cd release show for this one tonight at nine at Zebulon.
Bryan and the Haggards’ debut album Pretend It’s the End of the World is a collection of twisted instrumental covers of Merle Haggard songs, and it’s as funny as anything Ween ever did. Because its satirical bite sometimes goes completely over the top, it wasn’t clear how the band – a bunch of free jazz types – would approach the songs live. At Bar 4 in Park Slope on Monday night, tenor saxophonist and bandleader Bryan Murray wore a faded red Hag baseball hat; Jon Irabagon, the “heavyweight of the alto sax,” as Murray sardonically called him, sported a rare Bryan and the Haggards t-shirt. From the first few bars of the first song, what was most obvious, and unexpected, was that they’re a genuinely good straight-up country band if they want to be – for a few bars, until they start messing with the songs. Country music isn’t everybody’s thing, but it’s a lot of fun to play, and that fun comes intuitively to this crew. Guitarist Jon Lundbom would go deep off the jazz end at times, but he’s got a bag of C&W licks; bassist Moppa Elliott looked like he was having more fun than anybody else in the band even though he was mostly playing the simplest lines possible, one-five, one-five, and drummer Danny Fischer, whose leaden pulse is responsible for a lot of the humor on the album, gave the songs a jaunty swing when he wasn’t acting out. Which he did, a lot, and cracked everybody up, especially his bandmates. He began his first solo by stopping cold, followed by a pregnant pause: Elliott tried easing him in, but Fischer wouldn’t budge, finally doing a neanderthal Fred Flintstone impression all the way around his kit.
On Lonesome Fugitive, Elliott joined him in disfiguring the time signature while Lundbom took a long, incisive jazz solo, holding steady to the 4/4 even as he ran long, snaky passages, deadpan and seemingly oblivious to the joke. A slow, swaying 6/8 number with countrypolitan tinges – Miss the Mississippi and You, maybe? – featured a warmly melodic solo excursion from Murray that finally took on an insistent postbop intensity as he went for the upper registers. Likewise, it was nothing short of exhilarating to watch Irabagon – whose new album Foxy is due out this month – make short work of an endless series of razorwire glissandos. And maybe predictably, it was one of his solos, a mealymouthed, weepily retarded, off-key stumble during their opening number, that was the funniest moment in a night full of many.
Fischer had assembled some pint glasses behind his drums, a primitive marimba that he’d plink on or even use to add a little melody. When he took another lengthy pause during a solo, Lundbom asked him if he wanted another beer. The answer was no: for whatever reason, he didn’t need it. A crowd trickled in as the band played: patrons looked around quizzically, then smiled when they realized what was happening. There would have been a lot more of those looks, and a lot more audible laughter, had it been later in the evening. But that was just the first set.