Frank Zappa brought the question up — Does humor belong in music? — after many years of providing the answer every time he took out his black dot-writing pen or stepped onto the stage. Of course it does. Zappa also said, during the Roxy performance of "Bebop Tango (Of The Old Jazzmen's Church), that jazz wasn't dead, it just smelled funny.
Mostly Other People Do The Killing know this. Well, I mean, it's not like I asked them or anything, but I can hear it. From the surprising and hilarious quote of Sheena Easton's "Strut" during "Blue Ball," the bit of "Memory" during "Nanticoke Coke" (honestly, the only way I can stomach Andrew Lloyd Webber) to the deconstructed cover of "Cute," it's obvious that these guys are not exactly tightly wound, musically speaking. Besides, how can you not smile at the learned liner notes written by "Leonardo Featherweight"?
The main sonic instigators here are saxophonist Jon Irabagon and trumpeter Peter Evans, who work up a beautiful Ornette/Don Cherry kind of thing, clattering their way through the tunes. They use a fair amount of extended technique (check the scary drones they set up in the middle of "Little Hope"), but not without total dedication to a crazy-great sense of groove.
Groove, oh yes. Leader and composer Moppa Elliott and drummer Kevin Shea are rock-steady, toying with the shifting rhythms and slinky-like compressions and relaxations of the tempos. That silly groove is smooshed right in your face on the opening "Pen Argyl." Elliott lays down a naughty rhythm and Shea takes the bait. The sax and trumpet circle around each other, argue, fight, play in unison, celebrate the switch into swing-mode, and then rest. At one point we only have Elliott's bass and a very high-pitch squeal, serving as a launching pad back into the main strut. This is really glorious stuff.
I brought up Zappa not because I felt like trotting out that "smells funny" war horse, but to point out that humor and complexity are not mutually exclusive things. Frank's perverted little tango was both funny and one of the most difficult pieces he ever composed. This isn't meant to imply that complexity is necessary for enjoyment. Pop music, directly or indirectly, can satisfy too.
There's another lesson in there somewhere, but I'm too busy tapping my toe and dreaming of Sheena Easton.