Mostly Other People Do The Killing - one of the more creative group monikers I've encountered in many years - is an extremely energetic quartet of young virtuoso musicians (graduates of Oberlin, Juilliard, Berklee, Mannes, and the Manhattan School of Music) who are deeply involved with all styles of music. Their press packet, MySpace page, and bassist Moppa Elliott's liner notes for This is Our Moosic refer to a myriad of musical projects that the members of this band are involved in; various solo projects, stints in diverse indie rock bands such as Bright Eyes and Storm & Stress, a Merle Haggard tribute band, and an 80s pop cover band called 'Starship's Journey.' Lest you think that the rather bland world of 80s pop has nothing to do with cutting-edge 21st Century jazz, This Is Our Moosic seems to be conceived for the sole purpose of proving such notions completely wrong (check out 'Allentown' which closes out this phenomenal CD). As you might expect, the music of Mostly Other People Do The Killing (a. k. a. MOPDTK) is anything but bland.
Besides creating strikingly original and adventurous jazz-based music inspired by Ornette, Mingus, Sun Ra, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago (to name just a few), fun is also one of the group's primary objectives. Like Lester Bowie, Willem Breuker, Frank Zappa, Carla Bley, and others who have crafted music that is both artful and funny, MOPDTK are true iconoclasts as well as gifted improvisers with a profound understanding of the history of jazz and popular music. Most importantly, they do not take themselves too seriously. For example, all of their CD and song titles refer to the names of small towns in Pennsylvania. The cover art for This Is Our Moosic, their third CD, is a combined takeoff and tribute to Ornette Coleman (very much like the one Joe Baiza & Universal Congress Of did 20 years ago for their 'This Is Mecolodics' CD). In fact, the parallels to Coleman's innovative music are very real, indeed. Though no one in their right mind could question their abilities as players, as many critics did Ornette's and Don Cherry's, MOPDTK's music could stir the same sort of controversy that Coleman's did back in 1959. All of this, while being pretty funny to a music nerd like me, rings very true as the sum total of four lives spent listening to, and playing, original music.
The CD starts off with 'Drainlick,' a mutated boogaloo with roots traceable back to Lee Morgan's 'Sidewinder.' Here, Kevin Shea's totally unhinged drumming is the musical equivalent of something the Michael Scott character on 'The Office' would do to boost his employees' morale. Yet, at the same time, it's right on the money. Shea's manic double-time thrash-aloo merrily pushes Evans' stunning trumpet solo (the first of several on this disk) into the stratosphere until the momentum unexpectedly evaporates. I really enjoyed the way Evans instantly switched gears to accommodate the new surroundings, a sort of ECM pensive rubato vibe which slowly gathers steam as Evans' aggressive, darting jazz trumpet continues to have its say. The tune briefly returns to its original devil-may-care, bubbling boogaloo feel for the start of Irabagon's gospel shouting, bluesy solo. Irabagon, who solos like a man posessed, steers the piece well into late 60s free-bop territory before bringing the theme back with Evans in perfect unison. 'Boot Jack' - ostensibly a Boots Randolph tribute - follows a similar trajectory, albeit with a goofily anachronistic 2-beat country rhythm. 'Fagundus,' appropriately classified as "over-the-top macho jazz" by Elliott in his liner notes, is one of my favorite tracks. The tune itself is quite catchy and cool, Evans' and Irabagon's solos are wild sprawling masses of late 60s free jazz madness, and Shea's ecstatic bashing swings relentlessly and gloriously over Elliott's powerful bass. Another piece that appealed to me right away was 'East Orwell,' described by Elliott as a 'smooth jazz tune gone horribly wrong.' 'Gone horribly right' would be more accurate - Evans and Irabagon wring the simple, soulful, singsong melody to complete dryness over the endless agitated ferment of Shea's drums and Elliott's bass.
The rest of the CD is just as good, though it would hardly serve you, the reader, to describe every tune in gory detail. A sort of inventive, manic, almost fervid energy pervades 'This Is Our Moosic' that I found completely refreshing - somewhat akin to my first hearing of Hal Russell's NRG Ensemble or The Bad Plus. Like John Zorn's Naked City, MOPDTK does a lot of genre shredding. In other words, they simultaneously lampoon and pay respect to various music forms (country, blues, hard-bop, Dixieland, free jazz, punk rock) by regurgitating appropriately tagged bits and pieces of rhythm, melody, and chord changes during any given moment of any given tune. Unlike Naked City, which used jarring and sudden breaks to transition from one feel to another, MOPDTK's approach is more organic - they interweave these cultural artifacts into the overall fabric of their music, only occasionally disturbing its natural flow to call attention to what they've discovered. It's simultaneously demanding, rigorous, and goofy; sometimes a bit chaotic and disorienting (like Sun Ra's recreations of classic Fletcher Henderson charts), but always hugely entertaining.
This Is Our Moosic is a very accomplished and original hard core acoustic jazz album by musical insiders who insist on cracking jokes at every possible opportunity. It all happens with the fast and furious energy of some crazy kid's computer-animated feature length cartoon - and it's something that could exhaust many listeners, while invigorating others. Already recognized in both Downbeat and Playboy as a new jazz band worthy of wider recognition, MOPDTK will hopefully be stirring up controversy and air molecules for some time to come.