Mostly Other People Do the Killing – Forty Fort – Hot Cup 091, 60:25 ****:
(Peter Evans – trumpet; Jon Irabagon – alto and tenor saxophone; Moppa Elliott – bass; Kevin Shea – drums and electronics)
Mostly Other People Do the Killing is not a typical jazz quartet. The name should give a clue to this band’s modus operandi: they dub themselves bebop terrorists, although judging by the results of the group’s fourth effort, Forty Fort, they are closer in spirit to jazz anarchists. Over the course of an hour trumpeter Peter Evans, alto and tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist Moppa Elliott and drummer Kevin Shea, who also adds electronics, exhibit a brash conviction that ascends – or descends depending on a person’s perspective – to every conceivable jazz style or mannerism.
Over nine tracks, all originals except for a spindled translation of Neil Hefti’s "Cute," there is a sense of free-for-all adventure and a pursuit for creating music that goes many different directions. The foursome also answer an affirmative "Yes!" to Frank Zappa’s famous question, "Does humor belong in music?" This assertion is denoted through visual, textual and musical forms. The digipak cover lampoons Roy Haynes’ early sixties Impulse release Out of the Afternoon. The satirical liner notes written by Leonardo Featherweight (a nod to jazz scribe Leonard Feather) parodies standard commentary by focusing on what clothes the musicians wear. And then there is the music, which ranges from swing to funk, avantgarde to New Orleans stride and bossa nova to bop.
While there are allusions and quotes to an almost dizzying degree of pop, jazz and other musical modes, Mostly Other People Do the Killing do not push the envelope beyond endurance or disintegrate into chaos or ineffectual messiness. While the four musicians seem determined to strike out and be distinct from the previous jazz generation they never stray exceedingly far from traditional jazz methods or motifs.
This is exemplified on the title track, which begins with an affable and straightforward Dixieland swing. Then Irabagon starts steering a different route on sax, which is complemented later when Evans lays out a furious trumpet display. During eight and a half minutes the ensemble progresses through a flurry of contrasting rhythms and tones but underneath the complex composition Shea and Elliott keep a persistent and sometimes prickly groove.
Another highlight is the waltz-like "Nanticoke Coke," which covers a wide swath that includes conventional swing, aggressive funk and avantgarde extemporization. Sax and trumpet whirl and veer like sails caught in an ocean gale, while bass and drums splay out quick-witted rolls and thick lines.
Pre-bop influences ensue during the longest piece, "Blue Ball," which commences with a waggish, Duke Ellington disposition. But just as abruptly the cut unfolds into an accelerated and taut trumpet and saxophone interaction that in turn shifts to an unaccompanied Irabagon free jazz sax solo, followed by a section that contains extracts from numerous pop and jazz standards.
Based on these observations, listeners might expect a pack of carousing ruffians rather than serious and experienced players. You can almost hear someone asking Evans or Irabagon, "What kind of music are you rebelling against?" with the Brando-esque reply, "What have you got?" But that’s far from the truth. Mostly Other People Do the Killing is graced with talent. Irabagon was recently a winner in the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Saxophone Competition.
My review of Irabagon’s solo outing, The Observer, can be found here, and the others are equally skilled. While the music can be inscrutable, insolent and even, at times indulgent, there is earnest intention that can be perceived throughout.
1. Pen Argyl
2. Rough and Ready
3. Blue Ball
4. Nanticoke Coke
5. Little Hope
6. Forty Fort
7. Round Bottom, Square Top
8. St. Mary’s Proctor
— Doug Simpson