Review: Mostly Other People Do The Killing – “Hannover”

I became aware of this group (and this album) as I received it as a Christmas gift from my mother, who had in turn received the recommendation from Ludwig Beck, a traditional clothing and household department store in München’s city center, which has many moons ago turned into the leading capacity with regard to jazz records in town.

Mostly Other People Do the Killing is a jazz quartet based in New York City, consisting of Peter Evans (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (saxophone), Moppa Elliott (double bass) and Kevin Shea (drums). Founded in 2003, the group has released a total of eight albums, and went on to win the 57th downbeat critics’ poll in the “rising star ensemble” category in 2009. Apart from that (and from obligations of the members in other projects), they have, of course, been playing live a lot.

Hannover, their latest release to date, is a live recording of a concert in Hannover (Germany).

Looking simply at the lineup and the back photograph on the album, you find a group of four gentlemen playing tp/as/db/dr, wearing black suits – and at that point, you can’t but exclaim “The Shape of Jazz To Come!” even before listening to a first note from the music. And MOPDtK don’t do anything to work against that immediate Ornette Coleman association you get – quite the contrary: their 2008 album release is entitled This is our Moosic.

So what do they do? Music that, in 1960, would have been called radical? Perhaps the term “Terrorist Be-Bop” (originally coined by a New York Times critic, and adopted by the ensemble since) really points us into the right direction: MOPDtK don’t do what everyone else does and defend the status quo, but, similar to most terrorist organizations, they don’t invent something new, rather their revolution agenda is based on sources which, while already known, aren’t just what everyone else does. In this case, it’s starting with late bebop (and especially Coleman pre-“Free Jazz” material), and further developing that into a contemporary style of the 21st century, along the way taking inspiration from contemporary artists as diverse as John Zorn’s Naked City, George Lewis or Mauricio Kagel, let alone the back catalogue of the more interesting both short- and long-form rock musicians.

Here, we have a group of four highly-skilled musicians, which at all time refrain from showing their chops off for cheap effect. The music has depth, and a healthy dose of humour (without drifting into slapstick). There’s great compositions, which leave room for interpretation (which the artists individually, and the ensemble as a whole, are qualified to deliver). The individual tracks are on this album merged into longer suites (in the case of the opener, lasting for more than 30 minutes), where the individual sections work together beautifully (also in the case of A Night in Tunisia in the closing track) and always avoid the “bore of the long form” that free jazz and progressive rock sometimes tend to share. Finally, even though this is a live recording of acoustic instruments, the audio quality leaves nothing to be desired – in fact, this is a very positive example of recording an acoustic jazz group!

All in all, Mostly Other People Do the Killing are a, to this author, very welcome addition to the contemporary voices in jazz, also because this may very well be the first group or musicians since the early 60s who builds on the foundations of bebop, and continues to develop them into something that is more than just “post-bop”.

Some time ago, Nicholas Payton wrote an article entitled Will The Real Black Messiah Please Stand Upbewailing that “black syncopated rhythm […] is becoming a lost art”. Mr. Payton, I believe your search is over – you might just have simply overlooked MOPDtK in your quest because they don’t look exactly like a black messiah (qualifying as one having, I hope you agree with me on that, in the end nothing to do with colour).

Hugely recommended! And go see them live!

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