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Monday, September 23, 2013

Mostly Other People do The Killing - Red Hot (Hot Cup, 2013) ****½

By Tom Burris

Yes, our heroes are at it again, mock-saluting - and sincerely saluting - every jazz movement in existence and naming songs after Pennsylvania towns.  This time the main focus is on the hot jazz of the 1920s, but pretty much every other sub-genre of jazz gets a shout-out.  You know the drill.  If Woody Allen ever went back to making the kind of comedies he wrote and directed at the beginning of his film career (it would be a self-conscious move of revisionism that would surely suck but), MOPDTK's “Red Hot” would make the perfect soundtrack for them.

Kicking off with “The Shickshinny Shimmy” (Hello PA!), the band moves in and out of the 1920s w/ characteristic speed and smart chops, featuring the super-hot rolling dixieland banjo strum of new member Brandon Seabrook.  The standard line-up is also augmented this time around by the magnificent Ron Stabinsky on piano and bass trombone star David Taylor.  The in-and-out pattern becomes fully established on “Zelienople,” which opens with a drum solo from the always astonishingly excellent Kevin Shea.  The decades crash into each other from 40 years apart, as Shea plays free underneath some good ol' hot jazz.  Sonny Murray plays with King Oliver for awhile and then Bill Evans shows up.  Then Bill Dixon joins in, courtesy of Peter Evans (who was also King Oliver, of course).  How this can seem like par-for-the-course for any band is beyond all logic, but this band calls it home.

The title track begins with electronic gurgles and blasts alternating with Seabrook's banjo.  Then the band joins in, full dixieland, full Jelly Roll, full fun.  These smart asses take the piss out of the earnest hot jazz revisionist groups so well, but there is a slight feeling of “sore winners” about it.  They're running past the other guys at the finish line and giving them the finger and laughing while they do it.  I'm not saying I don't approve; I'm just saying that's what it sounds like.

On “King of Prussia” Stabinski does a piano solo mash-up of various pianists / songwriters.  Scott Joplin and Joe Jackson stand out pretty obviously.  (He does a mean McCoy Tyner during “Orange is the Name of the Town.”  This guy can do anybody.)  The whole band plays a slow bawdy stomp while Seabrook bows his banjo through a reverb effect, giving the 1920s a touch of 1950s sci-fi.  Inexplicably, the track winds up in lounge jazz territory.

Band leader Moppa Elliot takes a bass solo at the beginning of “Turkey Foot Stomp,” which takes on a Foghorn Leghorn vibe as the music traverses through the barnyard carelessly and confidently.  The harsh, zero-sustain attack of a banjo lends itself well to the overall landscape, often providing relief when things get a little too self-conscious or serious.  On “Seabrook, Power, Plank” this tack goes so far as sounding a bit like Naked City at Dollywood.

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon opens “Gum Stump,” a traditional 12-bar blues (no foolin') with a whole bunch of over-the-top freakouts in it.  The 12-bar blues format is held steadily for over five minutes; and then it's back to business as usual.  Cross Cab Calloway with Django Reinhardt in a Shakey's Pizza in New Orleans and you get “Bird-In-Hand,” the album's closing track.  It also stands as the most concise piece of music on the disc; and in a perfect world it would be a hit single on top forty radio.  (Does that still exist?)

Red Hot is an irreverent tribute to 100 years of jazz masquerading as a take-off on 1920s dixieland.  It could have only been conceived at this time, where the “jazz wars” between the sub-genres are (finally!) almost non-existent.  I can't imagine any other band attempting such an idea, let alone succeeding in its execution and making it seem so effortless.

Watch the original quartet here:

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Thomas said...

sounds interesting and I'm glad they're trying something new by expanding the lineup

any info on the other MOPDTK release "Blue" also mentioned on the Hot Cup Records website?