No sooner had Mostly Other People Do the Killing expanded to a septet with Loafer's Hollow (Hot Cup Records, 2017) than they shrink to their smallest formation to date with the trio release Paint. Founding member, bassist, and composer Moppa Elliott is joined by pianist Ron Stabinsky and drummer Kevin Shea. Trumpeter Peter Evans had departed the group before its 2015 Mauch Chunk album and now without Jon Irabagon's alto saxophone in the lineup, the sound takes a very different form. But convention has never been the MOPDtK modus operandi and this piano trio is hardly traditional.
Blowing up Mostly Other People Do the Killing from its core quartet to a septet may seem like an invitation to dance on the musical third rail. The group that has always straddled the broad and fuzzy line between tradition and chaotic improvisation, has nevertheless managed that process with a mixture of sophistication, revelation and unbridled enthusiasm. Loafer's Hollow is a surprising entry to their catalog of one-dozen releases.
One of the reasons that Mostly Other People Do the Killing has remained one of the most vital forces in modern jazz over the past decade is their willingness to embrace the joy and humor that can be found when playing music. From naming their tracks after small towns in Pennsylvania to the satirical dig at America’s culture of violence that gives them their name, the music is bright and buoyant and always a lot of fun. This album was recorded live during the Jazz and Beyond Improvised Music Festival on October 29th, 2012 at Jazz Klub Hipnoza in Katowice, Poland.
Mostly Other People Do the Killing, the bad boys of jazz, don't quite turn in a straight ahead hard bop album with Mauch Chunk, but it's as close as they are likely to get. The new quartet has pianist Ron Stabinsky in place of longtime trumpeter Peter Evans—which seems to ground the group sound—and there's less obvious classic jazz deconstruction and quotation than normal. Saxophonist Jon Irabagon stays on alto for the entire session, something he has not done in awhile. The sort-of title tune "Mauch Chunk is Jim Thorpe" opens the program with a jaunty swing, and it stays in character…but Irabagon can't resist throwing in a quote from the standard "Misty" during his solo.
Hard on the heels of their divisive Blue album released last fall this follow up is a live album that plays to their strength as a forward thinking but accessible band that has one thing that lifts them over many of their colleagues: a wonderful sense of humor. This was lost during their atom by atom reconstruction of the Miles Davis Kind of Blue LP, but here they are on home turf, ripping through lengthy medleys of their own original music, as always mostly named after small towns in Pennsylvania. MOPDTK consists of Jon Irabagon on saxophones, Moppa Elliott on bass, Kevin Shea on drums and Peter Evans on trumpet.
Mostly Other People Do the Killing have recreated one of the greatest and most important jazz albums of all time. By attempting to make an identical copy of the original recording, this album poses several interesting questions about music in the 21st century.
I've been too busy enjoying the music of Mostly Other People Do the Killing (MOPTDK) to realize how controversial they've become. If you doubt their ability to rile the jazz world, all you have to do is post one of their videos on your Facebook page and wait for the ensuing kerfuffle to begin. The core band is comprised of four virtuoso instrumentalists, free-spirits who think nothing of hopping from honest-to-god punk rock, to free improv, to hard bop, to Americana, and back; sometimes in the space of a single track. Many of their original compositions, written by bassist Moppa Elliott, have the outward appearance of overlooked post-bop and bebop gems from the mid-1950s and early 60s.