Sunday, December 24, 2017

CD Reviews: Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Paint / Talibam! with Matt Nelson & Ron Stabinsky - Hard Vibe/ Talibam! - Endgame of the Anthropocene

Mostly Other People Do the Killing
(Hot Cup)

Talibam! + Matt Nelson + Ron Stabinsky
Hard Vibe

Endgame of the Anthropocene

Some jazz musicians might use a major lineup as an opportunity to introduce a new band, or at least a band name (naming them after the album title on forthcoming releases). Not bassist Moppa Elliot. He and drummer Kevin Shea remain the only members from the original quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Pianist Ron Stabinsky has been with them for several albums now. But going from a pianoless/two-horn quartet to a septet with both piano and banjo (Loafer's Hollow, earlier this year) to now a piano trio, it's a sonic jump for the band. Though minutes into Paint, there's little mistaking who's responsible for the music.

The driving groove that helms "Yellow House" starts the album with a nod towards hard bop piano classics. But before long the rhythm section is taking liberties with the backbeat that was there at the start. Shea is up to his usual tricks, evoking Animal (as in The Muppet Show) during "Orangeville," knowing that his bandmates don't need him to guide them through a 5/4 vamp. In fact, in the hands of this trio, the song feels looser than the restrictive time signature might have otherwise indicate.

MOPDtK isn't necessarily above playing a ballad but "Golden Hill" presents the closesr thing to one in their 13-year history. This lush, triple-meter theme has a romantic quality to it. My ears kept expecting it to go into John Barry's poignant "Midnight Cowboy" but that feels more like a personal wish than Elliot's habit of referencing other songs. With the bass playing melody early on, it builds into a gust of tom rolls. Stanbinsky's right hand gets louder without losing the lyric sense of the tune in his left.

In "Whitehall" they try everything on for size to see what fits, and it all does, even the press rolls and cymbal crashes that come in "early." There might be a classic rock quote in there that can't be identified, but it succeeds in tugging at the ear, which is all that matters. "Whitehall" was originally named "Blue Goose," until Elliot discovered Duke Ellington had already used the title. The trio pays tribute to the original composition (also a town in Pennsylvania, like all MOPDtK song titles) with a version here that gives Elliot a chance to bow the melody, Stanbinsky a chance to add some Ellingtonian flourishes and Shea the opportunity to show that he can swing in the traditional sense if he feels so inclined.

With his Talibam! accomplice Matt Mottel (keyboards), Shea has often cut loose to an even greater degree than he does with MOPDtK.  When Mottel joined Shea and guitarist Mary Halvorson to turn that duo's People into People 3X a few years back, art rock, punk rock and improvisation got mashed up even further. If any of this bugs listeners, too bad about them. Mottel and Shea don't care, presumably.

On Hard Vibe, they're joined by Stabinsky (on Hammond C3 Organ) and Battle Trance member Matt Nelson (tenor saxophone). Mottel sticks to Fender Rhodes and synths. It consists of two tracks, "Infinite Vibe" Parts 1 and 2, totaling 40 minutes. Three-quarters of it finds the group playing over a fusion-type groove that modulates in each chorus, adding an additional key each time. Although sometimes it seems like they might not add as many modulations to certain chorus.

Over top of Shea, Mottel and Stabinsky, Nelson wails with a gritty tenor tone that never runs short of ideas. It's impressive because after awhile the groove feels both unsettling and intriguing, much like - and I know this is a remote comparison to all jazz fans - Flipper's "Brainwashed," which repeated the same idea ten times in a row, ultimately suckering listeners who were waiting for a change to come. Released on vinyl, it resolves at the end of Part 1, but picks up right at a new chorus at the start of Part 2. It continues much like it has for 10 minutes. At that point, Mottel locks into a one-chord groove and Stabinsky goes wild on the organ. Soon, Nelson joins them, adding some electric effects to his horn. In some ways, the break in the suspense serves as a welcome relief that makes it all worthwhile, especially when they proceed further into a groove that recalls electric Miles Davis. In another way, the change comes a little too late into the game.

Endgame of the Anthropocene leaves Mottel and Shea to their own devices. It evokes the thought of two pals having fun in the studio, going wild and not worrying about the results until editing time. Nothing lasts too long, which is good when Mottel sets his keyboard for the Space Invaders voice but disappointing when they kick off a heavy '80s synth riff but let it get swallowed up by electronic noise and drums. But sometimes the frenzy is fun, like when it sounds like bedlam in a keyboard shop, or when they approximate the riff to the Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard."

The album also brings back the duo's flair for overly long track titles, like "Cost-Effective Drilling Enabled by Pionnering Technologies and Warmer Climates in the Southern Ocean" and "'Antarctica Shall Be Used for Peaceful Purposes Only' (Article 1)." So Endgame is a concept album. But it's up to listeners to figure it how it proceeds. Or better yet, check out the page for the album on the ESP website.

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