A Wacky New CD From Mostly Other People Do the Killing

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LOAFER’S HOLLOW / ELLIOTT: Hi-Nella. Honey Hole. Bloomsburg (For James Joyce). Kilgore (for Kurt Vonnegut). Mason and Dixon (for Thomas Pynchon). Meridian (for Cormac McCarthy). Glen Riddle (for David Foster Wallace). Five (Corners, Points, Forks) / Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Steven Bernstein, tpt/slide tpt; Dave Taylor, bass tbn; Jon Irabagon, t-sax/sopranino sax; Brandon Seabrook, bj/electronics; Ron Stabinsky, pn; Moppa Elliott, ba; Kevin Shea, dm / Hot Cup Records HC161

This new CD by bassist Moppa Elliott and his band, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, is based on a Western Pennsylvania town now part of South Park Township but originally called “Loafer’s Hollow.” At another point in its history, it was renamed “Library” because they built a big new one there, thus the sub-theme of the CD is music inspired by specific authors who Elliott likes.

In addition to the band having a new configuration, one of its new members is grizzled veteran bass trombonist David Taylor, who among other gigs has played several of composer Daniel Schnyder’s jazz-classical compositions, among them Afterthought, Teiresias, and subZERO, his concerto for bass trombone and orchestra. More interestingly, the first two selections—Hi-Nella and Honey Hole—are obvious tongue-in-cheek parodies of “old style good time music,” the first of them being so wacked-out that it put me in mind of Spike Jones and his City Slickers (all it was missing were the pistol shots and cowbells, and I’m surprised he didn’t throw those in, too). But Elliott, who wrote all of the compositions, retains much of the same feeling in virtually every piece on this wacky but wonderful CD. Even the solos tend towards parody. The publicity flyer accompanying this disc claims that the music “owes a great debt to the music of the swing era, and Count Basie’s many ensembles in particular,” but this simply isn’t true. Believe me…I know the early Basie band’s style and recordings inside out and upside-down, I’ve listened to them since I was 17 years old, and there’s no relation between them and MOPDtK. What really makes me laugh is that I’m sure some college-trained jazz historian who also studied sociology will write some wordy essay on this disc wondering about the deep psychological meaning of all the little tricks and twists that Elliott and his musicians have thrown into this music!

Probably the wackiest of the many wacky solos on this disc is the one Taylor plas on Kilgore, purposely groaning and straining in the lowest possible register of his bass trombone, but the surrealistic piano excursion on the same tune goes so far off the deep end in terms of harmonic contortions that it very nearly equals it in zaniness.

With Mason and Dixon, the band finally relaxes its uptempo madness, the first half of the tune being taken up by a ruminating, if still somewhat surreal, piano solo by Ron Stabinsky. Then, suddenly, Spike’s City Slickers come back for another pseudo-corny outing, complete with a purposely repetitious, out-of-tune banjo solo…shades of the Bonzo Dog Band! (Does anyone out theme remember the Bonzo Dog Band?)

Meridian actually begins with a fairly nice tune, somewhat reminiscent of Makin’ Whoopee, built on one of those wonderful interlocking-chord-patterns that lay at the base of so many tunes during the so-called “golden era” of American popular song. For once, we get a relatively straight-sounding solo from trumpeter Steven Bernstein…well, at least to start with. It doesn’t take long before his inner George Rock takes over and he starts slurring and going outside the tonal center, making a parody of his own solo! A double-time, high-pitched banjo solo leads to some pretty wild cacophony before the Makin’ Whoopee-like tune returns. The final note, played by the trumpet, wavers in pitch.

Glen Riddle has another catchy melody, this time sounding like something Squirrel Nut Zippers would have played. The piano gets purposely lost both rhythmically and harmonically, but instead of abandoning him the bassist tries his best to follow him, apparently thinking this is the way to go. The rest of the band just waits him out before resuming the initial tune as if his wayward solo never even happened. Again, the final notes are wavered by the trumpet.

Five (Corners, Points, Forks) is as wacky and mechanical-sounding as the opening number, with Jon Irbagon happily cackling away on sopranino saxophone above the ricky-tick sound of Stabinsky’s piano. Bernstein squnts (sort of a cross between a squeal and a grunt) on trumpet, but all the band members take their turns at solo cornball parody on this tune. When the full band comes into play, it’s almost drone-like in its feeling, with the low instruments (tenor sax and bass trombone) driving the ensemble. Eventually the trumpet and trombone just go nuts above the fray, which collapses into a heap of cacophony. Say goodnight, Gracie.

No, this isn’t what you’d call an artistic jazz album. I’m not even sure if the term jazz really even applies to it. But it does occupy a niche of its own, much as the parallel zaniness of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s classical parodies do (see my reviews of his music in Older Blog Posts). For what it’s worth, I absolutely loved this album. It made me laugh on a day when I was in tremendous pain and not feeling very well with the world, and that says a lot about its therapeutic value!

—© Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of jazz and classical music

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