Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Forty Fort

Viciously satirical “bebop terrorists” Mostly Other People Do the Killing are back with another album which this time extends their savagery further beyond jazz into rock, pop and even new music. The idiom is still jazz, a particularly purist idiom at that, but the esthetic is pure punk rock. MOPDTK take no prisoners, they acknowledge nothing as sacred and in so doing reaffirm their status as the world’s funniest jazz group. Humor being a function of intellect, they know their source material so well that their sometimes playful, sometimes cruel extrapolations are inevitably spot-on. They have a rep for improvisational wipeouts, but probably much more of this stuff is composed than they would ever let on. From the first few seconds of the album, they are up to no good: bandleader/bassist Moppa Elliott and drummer Kevin Shea are the main culprits, although sax player Jon Irabagon – whose recent work is gorgeously lyrical and won him top honors at the Thelonious Monk International competition – and powerhouse trumpeter Peter Evans are very close behind. The song titles on their last album were all towns in Pennsylvania; here, they parody a vintage 60s album shot on the cd cover, as if to say, what could those stoners possibly have been thinking back then? The compositions here are, at least at heart, more accessible and traditionalist than on the Pennsylvania album, which ironically gives the band even more of a launching pad for japes and swipes. And Irabagon’s obscene gesture on the inside of the cd cover outdoes Gene Simmons.

There’s a basic formula at work here, and it’s teamwork – the horns hold it together, at least to the extent that they do, while the rhythm section goes nuts, or the rhythm section goes completely rock, four-on-the-floor while the horns are off in the boposphere. Even so, the changes remain so split-second or out-of-leftfield that it’s impossible to predict what trouble is lurking around the corner from that too-perfect second-line beat or slinky blues bassline. The album’s opening cut is a go-go groove that has Shea acting out from the second bar, Irabagon and Evans squealing off and on behind him as Elliott deadpans it, completely locked in. And then suddenly it’s a straight-up song, no joking – for less than a minute, actually, before Irabagon starts making fun of it again. At the end, Shea lays down a dijeridoo loop that eventually falls apart when nobody can keep a straight face anymore.

The second cut amusingly lifts a bunch of timeworn Weather Report riffs while the rhythm section slowly gets out of hand – Elliott’s phony Jaco solo is to die for. A squalling yet meticulously orchestrated conversation between an agitated Irabagon and Evans trying to calm him down takes it out. Track three, Blue Ball starts out less a mockery than just a good song, unease of the horns obscuring the pretty, bluesy tune underneath. Elliott holds it together on the upper registers before the insistence of the horns takes it hopelessly outside, down to a fluttery chaotic mess out of which Irabagon tries to pull it but then falls back in. What was that title again?

The next cut, Nanticoke Coke would be a pretty ballad if Shea would let it go there, but he won’t let them get far enough into it. On Little Hope, Elliott introduces what would be a minor soul groove in jazz, or a cliched 80s hook if given the right synth tones. Irabagon eventually goes into a squall of overtones as the band keeps the groove tight while the tune disintegrates every which way. The Louis Armstrong-inflected title track waits til the very end to introduce its best joke; Round Bottom, Square Top would be a joyous New Orleans march if Shea would sit still. And then the rhythm section leaves the horns out to dry. The album winds up with a Paul Whiteman-esque swing tune kicking off with some rustic muted work from Evans that gets time-warped to Ornette’s era, and a concert favorite, a cover of Cute by Neal Hefti. Needless to say, it’s anything but, and it gives Shea a chance to remind better than just about any other drummer ever has that drummers should almost always never be allowed to take solos. This band may sarcastically assert that mostly other people do the killing, but in their own twisted way nobody kills more than MOPDTK. And the cd liner notes – by legendary centuagenarian jazz critic “Leonardo Featherweight,” on the use of color in jazz – are worth the price of the cd alone.

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January 23, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mostly Other People Do the Killing – This Is Our Moosic

As with the Coen Brothers, it helps with these guys if you get the references, but if you don’t, they’re still a whole lot of fun. The Moosic in the title of the cd refers to a town in Pennsylvania, as, in fact, do all the compositions here by these self-described “bebop terrorists.” Perfectly illustrative image: bass player/bandleader Moppa Elliott standing in his suit with the rest of the band on the Moosic Little League field, casually wielding an aluminum bat. Elliott provides seven paragraphs worth of liner notes, which can be condensed to the following: “In the spirit of Ornette Coleman, we never play the same song remotely the same way twice, nor do we attempt to. We’d rather ham it up and converse through our instruments, sometimes with great wit, sometimes totally incoherently. Why? Because we can, because we’re casually but extraordinarily good at what we do – in fact, we almost won a big award last year and we’ll probably win a few before we’re done – and that savoir faire allows us to take the kind of chances most groups should never, ever attempt.”

 

Yet even with Elliott’s Ornette fixation, the compositions on this cd stand out every bit as much as the group’s formidable chops and ever-present sense of humor. Ultimately, MOPDTK are hardcore purists who never heard a cliche they didn’t want to lampoon, and they waste no effort in hunting them down. Elliott listens widely and, it seems, almost encyclopedically, at least as far as jazz is concerned. Although his compositions reflect a staggeringly diverse array of influences and perhaps consequently sprawl all over the place, he’s a powerfully terse player, a hard hitter who likes a dirty, gravelly tone. Drummer Kevin Shea plays with vivid intelligence and is perhaps the biggest ham in the band (although Elliott is right up there with him). Sax player Jon Irabagon comes across as a soul guy with a wry sense of humor, although some of the most sublimely ridiculous flights here are his. Trumpeter Peter Evans is their hitman, a ferociously fast, bluesy powerhouse who limits his messing around to when it really counts. Stylistically speaking (at least as far as writing is concerned), this band’s closest relative is the legendary New York group the Microscopic Septet.

 

Fifteen seconds into the cd’s opening track, Drainlick, Shea is already messing around. Written around a 60s boogaloo theme, the band burn through a verse, eventually all go off scurrying in separate directions, sax and trumpet yodel at each other and then everybody comes together on a flight up the scale. By the time they’re three-quarters of the way there, they realize how funny that is and they start making fun of that too.

 

Fagundus (a real Pennsylvania town) opens with big, roaring bass chords – since Shea functions much like a pianist in this band, coloring the music, the actual propulsion often falls to Elliott, who attacks it with gusto. Later Irabagon goes out of control, eventually pulled back to earth by an insistent Evans. East Orwell manages to spoof both lite FM smooth-grooves jazz and middle-period, middlebrow Maynard Ferguson: it’s a hoot listening to the band members badgering each other to get in on the madness. The cd’s seventh track, Biggertown begins as a chase sequence, brings it down to the drums, watches a little suspense turn into a game of hide-and-seek and then segues into the 12/8 blues Effort, Patience, Diligence which matter-of-factly chronicles and then savages pretty much every blues cliche there is. The cd ends with its funniest number, a cover of Allentown by Billy Joel. While it wouldn’t be fair to give the joke away, it’s the last thing you’d ever expect from this group, and the satire is cruel and hurtful. Billy Joel is a good musician, so he’d understand what these guys are doing: if he actually cared about what anybody thinks (fat chance of that), it might actually make him rethink his career. As far as Pennsylvania geography is concerned, the only thing missing here is Intercourse, which the band may be saving for the next cd. Until then here’s a strong contender for funniest and funnest cd of the year.

February 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Mostly Other People Do the Killing at Cake Shop, NYC 1/21/09

A noise-rock band, the Sediment Club opened, abrasive, confrontational and very successfully so. There was no escaping the ugliness blasting from the Fender player’s big combo: even though much of what he played was random noise, often with a slide, he’d clearly spent some time finding out where the nastiest places on the fretboard are. And the more his guitar went out of tune, the uglier it sounded, a striking contrast with the catchy, skittish and frequently dark if rhythmically suspect basslines, and the dance beat from the drums. The vibe was totally early 80s new wave, the lyrics either yelled or spoken in a casually angry tone. One of the songs was an effectively corrosive cover of Life Sucks by Pere Ubu; the band seemed to have sympathy only for the “voodoo puppet” in another number. Easy listening, not, but give the band credit for imagination and the guts to get up onstage and assault the audience with this stuff. You could dance to it if you were angry enough.

 

 Self-described “terrorist be-bop” quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing followed with an all-too-brief set that was as flat-out hilarious as it was a showcase in devious intelligence. This space has on more than one occasion declared the Microscopic Septet to be the Spinal Tap of jazz; the time has come to refine that characterization. Last night Mostly Other People Do the Killing proved that they are definitely the Spinal Tap of improvisational jazz – they’d no doubt gladly leave the compositional stuff to anybody else. By the time they were done with their first number, they’d been through a fat, bass-driven dance groove, two swing passages, a space-warping bop breakdown and a section where trumpeter Peter Evans went into a long, extended low warble that mimicked the sound of a vaccuum cleaner. Like an overstimulated cat, the band’s arrangements hint at elegance but never go that far because there’s always another joke around the corner, another chance to lampoon a jazz cliche or take a playful riff on a trope from across the ages.

 

MOPDTK pull this off because they know what they’re doing is funny, and they know how to do it: in the spaces between or building up to the punch lines, their chops were savage. Bassist/bandleader Moppa Elliott impressed with his miminalist melodicism and soul-inflected, propulsive attack. Evans ripped through a series of ferociously fast, staccato blues phrases without losing a microquaver’s variance in tone – iron lungs, and a hardcore purist sensibility. Sax player Jon Irabagon, by contrast, played warm, introspective, legato melody over the bombardment going on behind him: on the set’s second number, he and Evans carried on a warmly animated barstool conversation while Elliott gritted his teeth and shoveled snow, his bow scraping every icy, growling texture and overtone he could evince from the bowels of the bass. 

 

They closed with a cover, a Neal Hefti number, said Elliott. It began with a drum solo, Kevin Shea all business, going straight for the crescendo. Then Evans and Irabagon lit into a four-note phrase, ostensibly taking it to the head, the crowd listening intently for what was probably going to be a big florid hook. But no. More drums. This time Shea threw a tantrum, all insistent and petulant on the and-three and the and-one, the tom-toms booming louder and louder. Then the melody returned. Were we going to get a song? No. More drums. Shea took it down to a fast 2/4 shuffle on the cymbal and hi-hat as if to build suspense, but that lasted about five seconds before he started in with the woozy splashes on the cymbals in all the completely wrong places. By now, everybody in the joint was laughing: this was a big, wet spitball aimed at every gratuitous, self-indulgent drum solo ever played. To say that it hit the spot would be an extreme understatement. It may have been one in the morning on the coldest night of the year, but the crowd howled for more: they didn’t want them to leave. But that was it. MOPDTK were nominated last year for a “best small combo” award from Downbeat, who would thoroughly impress and surprise everyone if they actually gave the award to the band. In their own twisted way, they’ve earned it.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment