When I got finished listening to Mostly Other People Do The Killing’s new album Red Hot, I thought, “man, this is the best album they’ve ever made.” That was prior to reading a quote by MOPDTK leader and bassist Moppa Elliott, who said, “this is the best album we’ve ever made.” Great minds, and all that…
Mostly Other People Do The Killing, in case you didn’t know, is a collection of highly skilled misfits whose aim is to subvert jazz, and each album since the self-titled debut from 2004 has mocked jazz in every way imaginable while cheerily demonstrating a mastery of it. The attitude was never too serious. The chops? Dead serious.
Lately their albums have been more tightly focused, in line with their album covers, which had usually been knockoffs of classic/semi-classic jazz album covers. At the beginning of this year, Slippery Rock adapted self-composed smooth jazz melodies into their notion of borderline avant-jazz. The idea behind album #7 is even better.
Red Hot is MOPDTK’s take on late 1920′s Chicago jazz, specifically, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Sevens. The group even went so far as to expand their usual quartet of Moppa Elliott (bass), Kevin Shea (drums), Jon Irabagon (saxophones) and Peter Evans (trumpet) to make it a “hot seven.” David Taylor (bass trombone), Ron Stabinsky (piano) and Brandon Seabrook (banjo/electronics) are the new kids on the block.
Sometimes you have to go way back to go way forward, or so the thinking must be for this project. It makes sense, actually. What Armstrong did in the 20′s must have been way subversive itself: this was the first time people in Western civilization were hearing music that was improvisational based. Moreover, many other new devices were introduced or popularized during that period, like lot of modulations, start-stop tempos, and a capella moments. This fits right into the mindset of MOPDTK. But it wouldn’t be a MOPDTK if they played the music their emulating straight all the way through; that would be boring after a while. You best believe Red Hot doesn’t roll like that.
So, you think “The Shickshinny Shimmy” is just a rewrite of any of a number of Dixieland tunes? Not when Seabrook is playing such aggressive banjo, or Taylor is playing a puckish trombone, or when the song moves into a modern motif in the middle as a launching pad for Irabagon’s very modern alto sax. And they’re just getting started.
The melody of “Zelienople” is similar to that of Hart and Rodgers’ “Lover” but the real attraction is Taylor and then Evans doing primary soloing as Irabagon secondarily solos on a C Melody sax. Seabrook meanwhile is using his banjo as a percussive instrument.
The band is notorious for slipping in quotes from songs of disparate sources, but “King of Prussia” trumps all previous such stunts. Stabinsky begins the tune on solo piano playing an abstract improvisation while inserting Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music,” Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Let ‘Em In,” Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” and Billy Joel’s “Prelude” all compressed in the span of about a minute and a half. The song after that is paradoxically a graceful, blues-based strain, but things get madcap again as Seabrook plays his banjo like a mandolin with electronic effects causing it to sound almost like a violin.
“Red Hot,” the title tune, begins in a fashion that couldn’t be further removed from 1928: electronic drones, which are countered by responses from Seabrook’s banjo, the weirdest damned call-and-response ever conceived. The blending of the three horns in concert and in conflict with each other provide the sparks later on within the same tune. “Seabrook, Power, Plank,” a play on Seabrook’s name (or the name of his band, the Seabrook Power Plant), provides lots of room for Irabagon and Seabrook to stretch out, more than probably would have been allowed back in the day, and the song nearly falls down a free jazz hole.
Once again, Mostly Other People Do The Killing give a history lesson on jazz without going through the chapters sequentially. By constantly jumping off from “hot” jazz to later styles, and jumping right back again, they demonstrate how advanced, adventurous and audacious that old, pre-swing stuff really was. The new jazz subversives are paying tribute to the original jazz subversives.
Red Hot is due out September 24, by Hot Cup Records.