Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Setting the Record Straight
Mostly Other People Do the Killing is frequently typecast as one of today's most humorously irreverent young jazz groups, based in no small part on their provocative name, which was inspired by a quote attributed to inventor Leon Theremina survivor of the Soviet gulag who exonerated Stalin because "mostly other people did the killing." Bassist and founder Moppa Elliott (born Matthew Thomas Elliott) has repeatedly insisted in interviews that the band isn't actually intended to be irreverent however, as much as it is anti-hero worship.
The quartet's rebellious spirit and wry sensibility is deeply rooted and readily apparent, well beyond its name. Released exclusively on Elliott's Hot Cup Records imprint, the band's four previous studio recordings offer a maniacally post-modern take on the tradition, willfully embracing the DIY punk aesthetic to "kill yr idols." Reinforcing this attitude, its album covers have repeatedly parodied iconic jazz sessions from the past: 2007's Shamokin!!! recasts the bold typeface design of drummer Art Blakey's A Night in Tunisia (Blue Note, 1960); 2008's This Is Our Moosic restages the group portrait of saxophonist Ornette Coleman's This Is Our Music (Atlantic, 1960); and 2010's Forty Fort sends up the pastoral scenery of drummer Roy Haynes' Out of the Afternoon (Impulse!, 1962); while its sole live release for Clean Feed Records, 2011's The Coimbra Concert, emulates the stark chiaroscuro of pianist Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert (ECM, 1975).
Despite the high-brow tomfoolery, the group boasts a truly phenomenal cast, whose quicksilver interplay has been perfected by years spent together on the road. Trumpeter Peter Evans and saxophonist Jon Irabagon, 2008 winner of the Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition, make a wickedly capricious frontline, while Elliott and drummer Kevin Shea form an elastically resilient rhythm section. Evans' staggering instrumental virtuosity and affinity for experimental extended techniques is paralleled by Irabagon's chameleonic delivery; together they seamlessly juxtapose circular breathing motifs, multiphonic outbursts and vocalized textures with contrapuntal harmonies, minimalist refrains and familiar quotes, referencing the entire jazz continuum all at once. Playing both in and out of time, Elliott and Shea further amplify this maximalist aesthetic, with the leader's robust bass lines underscoring Shea's ramshackle trap set deconstructions at every turn. Heading into previously uncharted territory, Slippery Rock! is the self-described "terrorist bebop" band's fifth studio recording.
All About Jazz: Almost all of Mostly Other People Do the Killing's (MOPDtK) album covers (other than its self-titled 2004 debut) mimic the appearance a classic jazz title, yet the newest release, Slippery Rock!, does not, instead parodying a tacky, fluorescent-colored 1980s vinyl record jacket. Why the change?
Moppa Elliott: Well, there was no specific album I wanted to parody for this one, so we did a parody of an entire era. The idea was in part inspired by the colored suits that graphic designer Nathan Kuruna found at Target...
AAJ: Although Slippery Rock! is purportedly inspired by "smooth jazz," it sounds as strong and uncompromising as the rest of the group's oeuvre. When interviewed by Kurt Gottschalk in the spring 2011 issue of Signal To Noise, there was mention that these new pieces were first premiered live using keyboards and electric bass. Can you elaborate on how the tunes changed from inception to recording?
ME: I originally thought that the keyboards and electric bass idea would lead to some new musical material for us, but instead it was a barrier. Peter felt most strongly about this, but after we talked about it for a while, I came around and agreed that the interaction between the four of us can continue to grow and develop without changing instruments or having Jon and Peter play keyboards. I wrote the original versions of most of the tunes on Slippery Rock! with that instrumentation in mind, then rewrote them for the original instrumentation. I found that very little changed when I took out the keyboard parts and that the stronger tunes worked in both contexts. There were a few that I wound up cutting since they didn't work without the keyboards or I just wound up not liking them.