Saturday, October 12, 2013

CD Review: Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Red Hot

Mostly Other People Do the Killing
Red Hot
(Hot Cup)

"Gum Stump," the penultimate song on Red Hot, begins with a duet/argument/conversation between trumpeter Peter Evans and saxophonist Jon Irabagon (on soprano this time). This feels like vintage Mostly Other People Do the Killing: beginning with a low volume of brass-induced feedback with soprano probes and growls that rise into a torrential downpour. When the duo cues in the rest of the band, the tune is not a hyper post-bop theme but a slow, dirty blues. Robert Johnson is sighted as an inspiration, but it also bears a resemblance to Jimmie Lunceford's classic take on "Blues in the Night" in tempo and gait.

MOPDtK leader/bassist/composer Moppa Elliot has targeted different periods of jazz on the band's previous albums. Less than a year ago, the quartet set their sights on smooth jazz with Slippery Rock. Rather than succumb to that music's trappings, Elliot borrowed elements from it that didn't resort to parody and made it their strongest effort in a while. For Red Hot he looks towards jazz of the '20s and '30s and comes up with another winner - maintaining his level of satire and a strong level of writing.

If the album cover didn't offer a definite indication, MOPDtK sprouted three more members for this session - bass trombonist David Taylor, pianist Ron Stabinsky and banjoist Brandon Seabrook. The additions simultaneously give the music a sound that recalls the early jazz era and twists it in just the right way. Nobody will ever mistake Seabrook for a staid plucker and his frenetic strumming is just right for the album's rapid changes in tempo and texture. Taylor, the veteran of this set who looks like the part on the album's cover, can blow the roof off the music or sound like a drunk victrola that needs to be wound up a couple times. Stabinsky takes a hint from drummer Kevin Shea, who once threw elements of classic drum solos into his own. In "King of Prussia," the pianist drops in "The Entertainer," Paul McCartney's awful "Let 'Em In," Joe Jackson's "Stepping Out" and a wild cluster that could be a direct quote from Cecil Taylor if not an homage.

The core group, and the writing of Elliott, should not be overlooked, of course. "The Shickshimmy Shimmy" begins with pep, but keeps alternating with a minor two-chord vamp, shifting things back and forth between the '20s and the Modal period. "Orange is the Name of the Town" picks up on the latter element when Stanbinsky evokes a McCoy Tyner or, more vividly, Lonnie Liston Smith thanks to the shimmer he puts on the heavy chord. The title track allegedly incorporates several songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers (sorry, I'm not that hip) into a stomp with some double-time stride piano and, for the first minute, an ear-abusing wall of banjo feedback.

In addition to soprano, Irabagon also plays the C-melody saxophone on several tunes, getting the authentic sound which comes with a staccato attack and some choice vibrato. Shea maintains his manic personality on his kit (which this time around is a 1930s Slingerland set) getting a chance to provide a clattering solo in "Zelienople" before they group hits the swinging beat.

One of the things that attracted Elliott to the early style of jazz was the music's willingness to modulate when least expected, go into stop-time sections and have soloists all going at once - all of which could accurately describe modern, freer types of this music. By bridging the divide between these decades and styles, MOPDtK have topped themselves.

On top of that, the lengthy work of fiction that is the liner notes is a hoot too. Nuf said on that.

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