Mostly Other People Do the Killing – Paint
(Hot Cup 171. CD review by Brian Marley)
Ever wondered what ‘romping through the changes’ sounds like? Look no further. Moppa Elliott’s group, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, has stripped down to a piano trio from the septet which released Loafer’s Hollow earlier this year, and they’re on fine, exuberant form. There’s lots more space in the music now the horns have been set aside, and consequently the players have more room to manoeuvre.
Moppa Elliott (double bass) composed all the tunes bar one – Duke Ellington’s Blanton-era Blue Goose. As usual with Mostly Other People Do the Killing CDs, the track titles derive from the names of towns in Elliott’s home state of Pennsylvania, though on this occasion he’s chosen only those with colour-coded names. (There is, by the way, no way to determine whether Ellington’s tune was actually named after the town of Blue Goose, but it’s possible, and Elliott likes to think so.) As Elliott had already composed a piece for this project entitled Blue Goose, he simply renamed it Whitehall. One hopes the music isn’t programmatic to any great degree, otherwise it might sow confusion among the citizens of Whitehall.
Although the compositions are mostly his, Elliott’s trio members make them just as much their own. To describe Kevin Shea (drums) and Ron Stabinsky (piano) as irrepressible would be to sell them short. This is a rambunctious but not unsubtle music that, while operating mostly within tight formal constraints, seems to erupt unpredictably like a jack-in-the-box or, on a grander scale, a volcano. Noble precursors of this approach include Misha Mengelberg’s various groups and the Clusone Trio, where playful disruption was not only permitted but actively encouraged.
Apart from their controversial note-for-note recording of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, treating it as a score to be followed faithfully, like a conductor directing classical players, Mostly Other People Do the Killing range stylistically far and wide. They merge the metronomic swing of between-the-wars dance bands with the metreless swing of The New Thing. The music is tight and loose all at once, and it cherry picks elements from every era of jazz, mixing them up to great effect. It’s seriously funny or serious without being po-faced. Call it postmodern, if you like. By setting aside the reverential element that Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center promote, in their bid to elevate jazz to classical music status, Mostly Other People Do the Killing have greater freedom of expression and just as rich a legacy to draw on.
Take Plum Run, for example. Its theme is somewhat reminiscent of Ellington, but the loosening structure as the track progresses, and the avalanching runs that Ron Stabinsky unleashes, are very much of the present day. It’s jazz, without a shadow of doubt, but not jazz-by-numbers, not hidebound in any way.