Review: Mostly Other People do the Killing

Mostly Other People Do The Killing
Drawing copyright Geoff Winston 2011. All Rights Reserved

Mostly Other People Do The Killing
(Vortex, Thursday 14 July 2011 – night 2 of two-day residency; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
Moppa Elliott – bass; Peter Evans – trumpets; Jon Irabagon – saxes; Kevin Shea – drums

‘Mostly Other People Do The Killing’ is a provocative name for a jazz outfit, even now, seven years after its inception. Intentionally sharp, politically tinged, this young quartet bring acute skill and musical awareness to the perpetually shifting focus of their live delivery. At the same time, confidence, humour and a sense of enjoyment ran through their performances at the Vortex last week, which were also their first UK appearances together.

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MOPDTK is primarily a vehicle for Moppa Elliot‘s compositions, the titles of many of which are based on locations in his native Pennsylvania – ‘Round Bottom and Square Top,’ for example. He and Peter Evans are disarmingly kitted out in preppy/Ivy League threads, a kind of camouflage for the band’s radical drift. Their roots are many and varied – there’s currently alot of blues in there, along with a line straight through to the genre-defining small jazz groups of the 60s, a hefty dose of James Brown’s visionary funk, and an unashamedly manic punk seam.

It was the latter which initiated proceedings. The sound of Kevin Shea tapping his sticks on the Vortex furniture as he chatted at the back of the room burgeoned in to a fully wired onslaught onstage within minutes. Elliot’s undeflected bass lines underpinned the turmoil unleashed by Shea. In the spirit of Han Bennink Shea played, hugged and licked the Vortex’s structural column, performed a handstand, and in his final solo of the evening, slowly collapsed in to his kit, leaving the cymbal to move independently, apparently unassisted.

This flash of showmanship is not to distract from the sheer musicianship on offer. Chicagoan Jon Irabagon, on alto most of the time, is an understatedly exceptional sax player, and left no doubt as to why he was the recipient of the 2008 Thelonious Monk Saxophone Prize. He and the equally outstanding Peter Evans maintained a breathtaking flow of references and statements. The contrasts, the flipping from high velocity to slow and languorous was almost schizophrenic. Tunes were picked up, dropped and exchanged, but the thread was never lost. Evans for one spell maintained sounds like a bee buzzing against a window; Irabagon’s drawn-out extemporisation on soprano sax, held in a high-pitched trilling zone, made for a uniquely memorable interpretation of ‘Night in Tunisia’, with Evans holding back in his refined and restrained pocket trumpet solo.

Ornette, Adderley, Ellington and Blakey blew in through the mist – reinforcing the referencing to landmark albums in MOPDTK’s witty re-enactments of the cover photography and designs of ‘Out of the Afternoon’, ‘This is our Music’ and ‘Night in Tunisia’ on their recent CDs on Elliot’s Hot Cup Records.

The wonky blues, the echoes of the marching bands popped up and disappeared before you could get hold of them. As Evans pointed out afterwards, that sense of a well-oiled conversation comes naturally to them, because they’ve played together so often. Whether these interchanges happen, metaphorically, on the front stoop or in the barroom, whether they skim over familiar territory or head off into new discourses, this was a fresh and invigorating evening’s music.

Peter Evans. Drawing by Geoff Winston
Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved

Jazz on 3 will present a recording of MOPDTK at the Vortex at 11pm on Monday July 25th.

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