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Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Red Hot

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Artist: Mostly Other People Do the Killing

Album: Red Hot

Label: Hot Cup

Review date: Oct. 7, 2013

It’s funny to think that Mostly Other People Do the Killing is now an established, “veteran” quartet, given how thoroughly invested they are in tweaking (indeed, sometimes skewering) all things established. Yet they’ve always made their mischief respectful, if not reverent, with a firm love of jazz in all its forms and a solid sense of how longstanding musical relations can pay big dividends. After the riotously refracted take on 1980s smooth jazz, Slippery Rock, MOPDTK goes nearly a century back on Red Hot. In their fast-growing catalogue, it’s yet another hour of distinctive, exuberant improvising that’s made fresh through (not in spite of) idiomatic materials.

As usual, the tunes are original despite period and idiomatic flourishes. They all spring from the imagination of bassist/leader Moppa Elliott (joined once more by outrageous trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, and drummer/percussionist Kevin Shea). But from the first few measures of “The Shickshinny Shimmy,” the lead-off track on this guest-heavy set, you hear how central are Brandon Seabrook’s exuberant banjo, David Taylor’s rotund bass trombone, and Ron Stabinsky’s winking pianism. Sure, it’d be somewhat accurate to call this MOPDTK’s take on the Hot Sevens, which they do look back to with instrumentation, idiom, and (of course) cover art. But their half piss-taking, half-reverence – which is more Willem Breuker-ish here than on many of their recent albums, though that’s likely a result of the material and the expanded band – is directed at achieving some kind of revitalization or synthesis.

One strategy the band uses for achieving this effect is to set up a swaggering groove or a mid-tempo collective shout, only to stumble en masse or punch out its bottom. They manage this on the falling-apart funk drumming of “Zelienople,” the galumphing Braxtonian march “Turkey Foot Corner,” or the tone-warping that decenters “Orange was the Town” (continuing Elliott’s obsession with Pennsylvania geography). MOPDTK seem always to be exposing a rusty edge or faulty seam; everywhere there are breakdowns, left turns, and sudden shifts, with a flair for mashups that’s equal parts Raymond Scott and John Zorn in sensibility. But the exuberant guests also hurl some fantastic instrumental curveballs. Taylor can play just about anything and uses the deep register of his horn effectively here. Stabinsky is often the most consonant player here, and his madcap, overstuffed quote tornado on “King of Prussia” (all the way from 1920s New Orleans to Joe Jackson) is a delight. Seabrook is the most textural of the three guests at times, especially with his judicious use of electronics (as with the high tones on the title track, or his stuttering loops), though he also plays regularly with an emphasis on rhythm (sometimes even more steadily and emphatically than the jittery Shea).

But their contributions don’t work without the deep sympathy among the key players, who display a shared understanding of not only the formal properties of the music they chew on but the spirit and emotional resonance. And as ever, it’s hard not be bowled over by Irabagon and especially Evans (who repeatedly returns to a hysterical, whooping helicopter effect). It’s music that is sassy and inventive, no stuffy history lesson but a bracing reminder of how much serious fun can be had in good jazz.

By Jason Bivins

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