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Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Slippery Rock!

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Artist: Mostly Other People Do the Killing

Album: Slippery Rock!

Label: Hot Cup

Review date: Jan. 30, 2013

You know them by now, or at least you should if you care anything about “jazz.” Straight outta Oberlin (at least in part), this splendidly monikered quartet (trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist Moppa Elliott and drummer Kevin Shea) have been releasing scorching, swinging, and often piss-taking albums on Hot Cup for the better part of the last decade. Each release comes with album art paying homage to a classic (last year’s two-disc live shot on Clean Feed was emblazoned with hilarious photos sending up the solemnity of Keith Jarrett’s The Koln Concert), complete with over-the-top liner notes and all.

While Slippery Rock! continues the tradition of name-checking smaller Pennsylvania towns, the album art isn’t a specific signifier so much as a general send-up of smooth jazz. Ringleader Elliott claims (and I believe it wholeheartedly) to have logged time studying the idiom’s formative albums from the Carter and early Reagan years, and while the music is certainly as intense and riotously fun as ever (Red Bull-fueled mash-ups abound), Slippery Rock! is also stuffed with little details that could be cribbed from Grover, G, or Fattburger. While these moments aren’t quite as obvious in their signifying as the eye-piercing graphics and the band’s garish suits (straight from 1986, the year that the over-heated, tongue-in-cheek liners contend marked jazz’s heyday), they certainly make this a distinctive serving of MOPDTK madness.

It’s not gimmicky by any stretch of the imagination, though. Part of the pleasure in listening to this band is hearing how the horns, both gifted with monstrous technique but capable of real textural subtlety, work together: They spool as one, tug things apart with ace dissonances, meld in fanfare, or stutter and wail incommensurably. And here, each also brings a hitherto unheard assortment of horns to the date. Evans supplements his main horn with a piccolo trumpet and a slide trumpet (making his playing even more sick, especially when he uses slide and mute simultaneously to conjure a buffeting, vaguely muffled percussive technique). Irabagon wields alto, tenor, soprano, sopranino and flute (though the latter two he generally saves for the marvelous, hysterical codas to many of these tunes). Right out of the gate, on “Hearts Content,” the horns blare and fret urgently beneath a pummeling groove, the whole thing stumbling forward, falling apart, but managing somehow still to sound lithe and coherent.

But this is of course due to another key MOPDTK pleasure: the singular feel of an engine room where Elliott’s continual variations in pulse and tone sound understated next to Shea’s regular surges and furious asides. (Listen to them do their thing on the raging “Yo, Yeo, Yough” and elsewhere the boisterous, mid-tempo funk of “President Polk.”) These presto-change-o tempo shifts, so subtle but so brash, clearly owe something to the aesthetic of mid-’90s po-mo bands like Human Feel (or pretty much anything with Jim Black, it seems). But the multi-directionality of this band is pretty distinctive. It’s most evident on the sour, brash “Jersey Shore” or in the thick of those spasmodic “C Jam Blues” references on “Paul’s Journey to Opp.” But even on relatively more spacious tunes like the languid, loping “Can’t Tell Shipp from Shohola,” each player moves in different directions and different modes so crisply (some tiny and fragile-seeming, some lusty like Evans’s double-time fury) that it’s tough to know how they pull it off with such aplomb.

In the end, I suppose it’s not quite fair to call them piss-takers, given how spirited and committed they sound on brightly infectious tunes like “Sayre” and the clickety-clacking “Dexter, Wayne, and Mobley.” It’s serious improvising throughout Slippery Rock!, with plenty of dazzling moments. So when you hear the pattering, stuttering end of “Is Granny Spry?” (which closes the album), Irabagon’s sweetly funky flute coda to “Sayre” (Hubert Laws via Ron Burgundy?), or whatever might be the next slice of boogaloo waiting to be served up, a fragment of decontextualized 1960s Blue Note, or a piquant exotica aside (as with the brief sopranino dervishes from Irabagon), think of these details not so much as pies in the face of your oh-so-serious jazz, but as exclamation points to MOPDTK’s ever-infectious ramblings.

By Jason Bivins

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