Mostly Other People Do the Killing – Blue [TrackList follows] – Hot Cup – 141, 45:41 [10/14/14] ***:
(Peter Evans – trumpet; Jon Irabagon – alto and tenor saxophone; Ron Stabinsky – piano; Moppa Elliott – bass; Kevin Shea – drums)
The quintet Mostly Other People Do the Killing (some refer to them simply as MOPDTK) is known for tweaking jazz history with a postmodern sense of humor. Their album covers have often modified other jazz record covers, sometimes mockingly and other times with a fair amount of reverence. Until now, though, the band—trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Ron Stabinsky, bassist Moppa Elliott and drummer Kevin Shea—has always been thoroughly themselves, with originality and creativity performed through the prism of their own viewpoint. But on their latest project, Blue, MOPDTK are not themselves. Blue is a recreation of Miles Davis’ iconic 1959 LP, A Kind of Blue. Make no mistake: this is not homage, not a tribute, not an interpretation. This is a note-for-note recording, replicating time signatures, timbre, rhythm, tempo, every element including tape hiss, even little audio disproportions which can be heard on the original Davis recording. The one item which is different is the cover artwork, which hints at Joni Mitchell’s 1971 folk-pop LP, Blue.
The band’s intentions are not outlined in the liner notes booklet, which instead contain a fictional critique by Jorge Luis Borges, published in 1939, where Borges appraises the virtues of an invented Italian scribe who ‘writes’ Cervantes’ Don Quixote novel, word for word, as if it had never existed. That philosophical underpinning is what partially (and practically) guides MOPDTK. Such a venture brings up the question, what is art? Is it advisable to make music which does not stray from what has previously been made? Should such ideas be thrust into reality? Artists in other mediums have tried analogous actions. Gus Van Sant’s infamous 1998 shot-for-shot redo of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho comes to mind, as does Salvador Dali (adding his mustache to Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”), Roy Lichtenstein’s comic strips blown up as paintings, and Andy Warhol’s pop art (such as his canvas of tomato cans or churning out mass-produced art prints at his Factory).
Jazz pundits and the dreaded ‘jazz police’ could doubtless debate the merits of MOPDTK’s endeavor until long after the cows have come home, jumped the moon, or gone back to eating their cud. For the rest of us, there is the music. This is A Kind of Blue, the closest thing to Davis’ artistry, but it isn’t. That’s the point, by the way. A lot of toil went into this 45-minute, five-track album. Evans mines every bit of his dedication, skill and talent to simulate Davis’s trumpet; Irabagon does double duty to reproduce both Cannonball Adderley’s alto sax and John Coltrane’s tenor sax; MOPDTK’s leader, Elliott, imitates Paul Chambers’ bass (Elliott’s arco work in particular on “Blue in Green” is suitably sublime); Shea copies Jimmy Cobb’s drum sound (cymbals, brush strokes and all); and Stabinsky ably stands in for both Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly. And yet, as Elliott has stated in interviews, it is impossible to make something precisely the same way, no matter how hard someone labors to do it: reportedly, MOPDTK members did several overdubs on various tunes to get the notes, and how they were played, exactly as was done by Davis and his bandmembers. To repeat, that is the point.
It’s disconcerting, eerie and odd to listen to the 1959 LP and this 2014 CD, to notice how closely and keenly MOPDTK have done their homework. Even trifling hesitations or imperfections by Davis or other players are present. But, aside from constructing a record which already exists, what is there except a theoretical plan brought to completion? Is this an audacious achievement or something too clever by half? MOPDTK fans will probably appreciate what the quintet has attempted to do here, whereas others may scratch their heads in befuddlement and bring out Davis’ A Kind of Blue and try to reenact that moment they first heard the music. For those who think MOPDTK are aiming to profit from Davis’ work, Elliott has publicly declared all proceeds from the self-financed project will be donated to charitable causes related to stopping gun violence and fostering music education in public schools.
TrackList: So What; Freddie Freeloader; Blue in Green; All Blues; Flamenco Sketches.