Mostly Other People Do the Killing – Slippery Rock!
(CD Review by Alex Roth)
Those familiar with the first four records by NYC quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing will know that when bassist/bandleader Moppa Elliot says the compositions on its fifth studio album were inspired by 1980s smooth jazz, there is going to be more than a touch of irony in any references to this oft-maligned genre. Indeed, throughout Slippery Rock! (as with previous MOPDtK releases) the notion of genre is stretched so far that it becomes a caricature of itself, as often humorously disparate styles are forced to rub shoulders. Here is a band that takes pride in bewildering juxtapositions of styles – from practically every era of jazz, country, rock, blues and much else – and deconstructs these idioms to forge something all its own.
From the very first downbeat of the opening track Hearts Content [sic], the set bustles with the kind of raucous energy that has come to characterise the band’s breathtaking live shows. Elliot’s compositions often start with melodic phrases that could have (and in some cases actually have) been borrowed from sources as far removed as Haydn, Kool and the Gang or Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith. But the band makes each scrap of material its own, with Kevin Shea (on blistering form at the drums) often the catalyst for rapid fluctuations in tempo and dynamics.
Jon Irabagon’s exuberant forays here demonstrate why he is one of the busiest saxophonists in New York right now. Meanwhile little remains to be said about trumpeter Peter Evans that has not already been noted. Quite simply, he is one of the very few musicians of any genre genuinely extending the vocabulary of his instrument, and his virtuosic command of numerous traditions is fascinating to hear in this context. Elliot himself is perhaps the slippery rock of the album title, laying down solid grooves one minute and pulling the carpet out from underneath it the next. His full tone is brought out beautifully by the excellent sound quality, which gives each instrument space to breathe but retains the intensity of a live performance.
There is a certain inevitability about the kind of guns-blazing improv terrain each track ends up exploring, but there is abundant detail in the thick textures once we get there. And hearing how these supremely adaptable improvisers approach and devour their fare is half the fun – the aural equivalent of watching a hunter encircle and trap its prey.
Early Ornette, late Coltrane, and classic Blue Note albums by the likes of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Lee Morgan are more easily recognisable references than the smooth jazz alluded to in the hilariously tongue-in-cheek liner notes (attributed to “Leonardo Featherweight”). But there are no half-hearted pastiches here; each of the four musicians have clearly immersed themselves in these and a myriad of other idioms, and have at their collective disposal a formidable array of techniques and vocabularies.
The remarkable thing is that despite this musical panoply, the band never sounds like anyone else; nor could the music be any more contemporary. Throughout nearly a decade of playing history, MOPDtK has established itself as quartet of virtuosic individuals with a shared purpose, and we can only guess whence their next offering will draw its inspiration.
Slippery Rock! is released on Moppa Elliot’s Hot Cup Records on January 22nd