Music

Mostly Other People Do the Killing: ​Familia: Paint

The antic pranksters of jazz return with a new format (piano trio) and a new seriousness? Mostly.

Mostly Other People Do the Killing started as a piano-less quartet, expanded to a septet to explore early New Orleans styles, raised hackles as a quintet when it created a note-for-note-improvisations-and-all recreation of Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, then settled back down to a quartet (this time featuring piano and saxophone) in 2015. Restless? Mutable? Fascinating.



Mostly Other People Do the Killing

Familia: Paint

(Hot Cup)

Release: 20 Oct 2017

In every incarnation, MOPDTK has been a subversive force, raiding the history of jazz as a way of insisting on its own personality. Though the band is led by bassist and composer Moppa Elliot, every member has been a fiendishly talented player with big ideas, and the result has been a series of recordings that have a point of view rather than just delivering good music. Buried at the heart of MOPDTK is the notion that “jazz" — the art form where instrumental improvisors play those classic songs for the cocktail drinking pleasure of folks over 40 (or... 60?) or where the same is done maybe at Lincoln Center — requires some disruptive wit. Elliot names all his songs after towns in Pennsylvania, for example. Album covers may be parodies of much-beloved jazz album art. Pianist Ron Stabinsky is as likely to quote Queen as Cole Porter.

The latest from MOPDTK is another shift in form. Paint comes from the Mostly piano trio: Stabinsky, Elliot, and original drummer Kevin Shea. The feeling remains largely the same, as the group delivers a combination of immersion in honest jazz spirit and flights of fancy. But, perhaps because of the cohesion of the trio as a single voice, there are also moments when MOPDTK seems new, less antic, and more timeless.

Core to the balance and the sense of cohesion, is Shea. Quite often he proves himself a soulful, swinging timekeeper, someone who knows the tradition backwards and forwards. But he brings every track on Paint a sense of imminent thrill with a style that is frequently tumbling and rattling toward freedom even as it pulls back to perfect stops and precise accents. For example, at the top of “Orangeville" (yes, every song title has a color in it, hence Paint), Shea is playing like a team of five year-olds who just got to the percussive playground, even as the composition is a fairly mainstream bit of blues-drenched soul jazz. Something, you sense, is going to happen here beyond the groove. And so, when Stabinsky develops the theme, he ornaments it more, matching Shea's sound, and then the improvisation quickly becomes a wild flutter of notes in the piano's high register even as the bass continues a simple four-note rising pattern. Shea gets crazier too, and what we get is not a standard “jazz solo" over the chord progression but a much more interesting dose of free jamming that works from a single compositional motif. Elliot's bass solo is a contrast, melodic and warm, with Stabinsky soundling slightly McCoy Tyner-ish in his accompaniment. And then we're home again to the theme. Tradition satisfied, sure, but a freedom center to the enterprise.

This kind of fun combined with daring is all over Paint. “Black Horse" is a joyous swinger with a few quick shifts into a skittering Latin time, Shea at the controls at all times. Elliott has a crisp bass feature where Shea and Stabinsky trade mad phrases with him before he takes the melody for a bit. The closer, “Whitehall" sounds like a classic tune carved out of the fat part of the Tin Pan Alley tradition, but it morphs with each harmonic wave, then transitions into modern territory for a solo in modal modern style. “Plum Run" is a charming waltz that passes the melody from piano to bass and back again, with Stabinsky solo that toys with you before it sweeps you away.

This may be the first MOPDTK recording where you can forget, at times, that you're listening to jazz's merry pranksters. It turns out that Duke Ellington wrote a tune called “Blue Goose" — which is also a town in PA — so here it is, modern but not goofed on. Shea gives you that signature stumble-groove as Stabinsky rides over Duke's changes, but you're always in safe hands. “Golden Hill" is simply a gorgeous ballad, brought character but not lunacy as the rat-a-tat moments and climatic build between piano and drums prove creative but not disorienting in a post-modern “jazz as commentary on itself" way.

There are still moments of in-joke fun, however. "Green Briar" is a kick, a bashing tune that lets the trio really romp. The theme is consonant and sunny, punctuated with a stop-time figure that hooks your ear. Stabinsky dives into a soulful solo that has a slightly messy, late-1950s feeling, but about two minutes in he catches a whiff of the rippling style that we associate with pianist McCoy Tyner, at which point he goes full Mostly Other People Do the Killing on us — sliding in and out of specific quotes from Tyner's iconic piano solo on John Coltrane's most famous recorded version of “My Favorite Things".

With a couple of other exceptions, Paint gives us a vision of MOPDTK as a band that has a maturing vision, a new sense of focus. I don't know if this is a “better" band , as jazz needs the critique that classic Mostly Other People Do the Killing always provided. But this new cast of the group is impressive on its own terms, with Stabinsky proving that he is a compelling primary soloist and with Shea pushing toward astonishment. I promise not to miss the pranksters if this direction continues.

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image