Mostly Other People Do The Killing
When Bruce Eaton began to coordinate the indispensable Art of Jazz Series at the Albright-Knox Gallery, he was known to take flyers on some of the most vehemently progressive young musicians in jazz – no one hipper or brainier or more impressive in their way than the quartet cheekily called Mostly Other People Do The Killing.
With the new Art of Jazz Season at the Albright-Knox Gallery under producer Jon Nelson (it will begin with Slavic Soul Party and include Dave Douglas and the extraordinary Cuban saxophonist and percussionist Yosvanny Terry before it’s over), it has become ever more important to keep up with MOPDTK, by almost any assay one of the smartest and most significant conclaves of post-modern thinkers among young jazz players. (Brad Mehldau would seem their only competition, comparing some of his liner notes with theirs.)
When last we heard from MOPDTK, they created an extraordinary piece of jazz criticism in sound by reproducing note for note Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and – get this – using as the disc’s liner notes Borges’ story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.”
With typical metaphorical pointedness, we’re told in the notes to “Mauch Chunk” that the title is the name of a “former hub of commerce, transportation and tourism in eastern Pennsylvania blessed with both natural resources and scenic beauty” that fell on hard times and, with the collusion of Jim Thorpe’s widow, contrived to have the prodigious Oklahoma athlete buried there and then renamed the whole town Jim Thorpe, in hope of inspiring tourism.
Here, then, is a group whose bassist and leader Moppa Elliott is literally scholarly about all eras of jazz presenting us with millennial jazz in tribute to all sorts of jazz eras without being beholden to anyone – Henry Threadgill, for instance, Caetano Veloso and Dave Holland. To show you just how allusive they can be, the Threadgill tribute it called “Mauch Chunk Is Jim Thorpe,” a very clever reference to a Threadgill disc whose explanatory title wisecrack was once “Spotted Dick is Pudding.”
In keeping with their braininess, this disc is almost tumultuously full of musical ideas in the playing – sometimes, literally, a new one in every bar – even though none of the original compositions themselves is on the level of what’s alluded to.
Still, this quartet is one of the unfailingly compelling young bunches in jazz – ubiquitous saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Ron Stabinsky, bassist/composer/leader Elliott and drummer Kevin Shea.
– Jeff Simon