Moppa Elliot’s Mostly Other People Do the Killing stand as one of the most compelling ensembles in modern jazz and it isn’t just the ridiculously cool name that lands them in that space. Featuring such adventurous musicians as Peter Evans, Kevin Shea and Jon Irabagon, this New York jazz crew flaunts convention at every turn in their quest to establish a new, unruly tradition.
If you ask Elliot what the point of it all is, he’ll tell you that it’s really quite simple: “We make fun.”
Their fourth album, Forty Fort, is packed with the same gutsy exploration that fans have come to know and love from their previous three records. Elliot has designed eight original compositions that wander through a host of musical traditions. He fearlessly pursues the work of Weather Report, Herb Alpert, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Phil Collins, and Sheena Easton. Yes, Sheena Easton.
It would be easy to dismiss MOPDtK as a parody group, especially given records like Shamokin!!! and This Is Our Moosic, but Elliot’s band generally files through all the elements with a sense of smiling reverence and class.
In other words, when MOPDtK stacks passing references to Busta Rhymes and Ron Carter inside the layering of “Rough and Ready,” they mean business. While there’s no question these guys are having some huge fun, there’s also a rather serious exploration of the contemporary and the historical going on.
The noisy, impulsive waltz found on “Nanticoke Coke” furthers this examination and finds Elliot teasing Paul Chambers a tad. Listen as the players attempt to maintain the form of a basic waltz only to be overshadowed by their desires to “hog the spotlight.” Call it organized chaos, but it’s brilliant.
Elliot’s insistence on demonstrating that there’s room in jazz for various musical forms takes on yet another unique shade with “St. Mary’s Proctor,” a fascinating piece that builds off of Evans’ trumpet to melt into a slinky, greasy strut.
The beauty of adventurous groups like MOPDtK is that they’re willing to fall flat on their asses in attempting the impossible. Elliot and Co. may not win every jazz traditionalist over to their camp with their interpretations, but there’s no question in my mind that these cats are true students of the game and that their bold musicianship represents nothing less than the purest form of the art.