Sunday, February 07, 2016

CD Review: Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Mauch Chunk

Mostly Other People Do the Killing
Mauch Chunk
(Hot Cup)

One critical angle that has probably become cliche by now is the opening line where the writer admits that, upon first listen, s/he wondered if the wrong album was cued up, so surprising are opening notes. In the days of records, the idea would have been far-fetched. In the CD age, it's a tad more likely. I once got a generic latin jazz disc that actually contained King Cole Trio songs. And I once got a mislabeled ECM promo.

But I say this in all sincerity: I did wonder, when Mauch Chunk started up, whether I was listening to Mostly Other People Do the Killing or some other group entirely. Expecting some sort of two-part trumpet-sax melody against a frenzied rhythm, instead "Mauch Chunk Is Thorpe" greeted the ears with a pounding Tynerish piano riff. The rhythm section was fairly straight-forward, at least for a MOPDtK session. Peter Evans' trumpet is conspicuously absent here, and everywhere else on the album.

Of course it was MOPDtK coming through the speakers. Before long the drums took on that the Animal-meets-Elvin-Jones style that could be no one else but Kevin Shea. Pianist Ron Stabinsky has also been part of the group on recent albums. During this track's piano solo, Jon Irabagon's alto adds commentary that almost sounds like he's grumbling, "Why, I oughta," before he himself unleashes his own blend of upper register leaps and squonks, eventually leading the tune's calm conclusion.

A few albums back I worried that the band's cheeky performance could wear thin. If you poke fun at the old guard the whole time, the shtick will get old and overshadow the music. But since then, they've come around. Bassist Moppa Elliot's concepts have evolved to a point where the humor remains but the structures have become more complex. They're having their cake and eating it too.

Just when it seems like the band might have actually settled down into something accessible, they take great delight in jolting the listener. The best example comes in "Townville." (Once again all the tracks are named after cities in Pennsylvania.) Started off with a clipped hard bop line, with Stabinsky throwing chords at Irabagon's plucky alto, it quickly starts to pull apart. With everything spilled on the floor, Irabagon inserts an exaggerated quote from "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." And that's just the first two minutes of a nearly 12-minute piece.

Each track is dedicated to a different artist, from a neighbor to a dancer to jazz legends Henry Threadgill, Dave Holland and Sonny Clark. The dedications don't specifically play to the honoree's personality and the group does push things to the limit. The bossa nova "West Bolivar"(for Caetano Veloso) begins with Irabagon blowing, presumably, into his horn without a mouthpiece or maybe a neck, and later Shea almost derails the groove of the piece.

At the same time, they settle down for "Niagra," a ballad that pays tribute a friend who gave the group their first show. And amidst the relative tranquility, the structure is built on unusual lengths in the phrases, which still keeps you engrossed in the music, wondering where they're headed. Reverent yes, but never maudlin. Not by a long shot.

And it's good to see the oddly named city of "Mehoopany" finally get honored with a piece. The fact that it's sort of a boogaloo makes it even better.

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