For their latest avant rendering of jazz and culture in a broader sense, MOPDTK take on trad jazz in a decidedly non-traditional manner, using literary titans from Pynchon to Joyce to Vonnegut as source material.
One of the guiding aesthetic tenants of Moppa Elliott’s Mostly Other People Do the Killing has long been sly references to identifiable cultural touchstones. Whether through their recreations of iconic jazz album covers on their earliest outings or their subversion of the form in general, MOPDTK has taken the familiar and turned it on its ear. For their latest release, Loafer’s Hollow, Elliott again turns to well-known source material as the basis for his idiosyncratic compositional approach. Instead of jazz -- or even music in general --, he turns to some of his favorite passages in literature, converting them into a form of post-modern traditional jazz of the bizarro varietal. It’s an intriguing idea in theory made even more so by its wildly imaginative practical application.
On its surface, the album is an otherwise straightforward reading of trad jazz with decidedly avant-garde leanings. And while there are certainly plenty of elements of a trad jazz sound -- much of this coming through in the form of Brandon Seabrook’s banjo -- MOPDTK has been and always will be an avant-garde jazz group. Less than two minutes into opening track “Hi-Nella", the entire band breaks for a nearly two-minute solo trumpet improvisation from Steven Bernstein that obliterates the previously established form in its seemingly formless exploration of drones, flourishes, and other non-traditional trumpet sounds. This last part is critical as, though his approach is certainly musical, Bernstein here is looking to create sounds on his instrument that subvert the trad jazz approach that bookends the track.
“Honey Hole", perhaps the most traditionally-minded piece on the album, rolls along on a pre-bebop, Count Basie/Duke Ellington aesthetic underscored by Kevin Shea’s tumultuous drumming. Indicative of the bands’ approach, this refusal to play anything entirely straight is at the heart of their appeal, allowing for genuine surprises to come about organically rather than feeling forced (check the out-of-left-field electronics courtesy of Seabrook that helps usher in the close of the track). It’s a wildly imaginative approach to otherwise staid notions of what jazz could/should be.