April 29, 2010
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord
Hot Cup 093
Mostly Other People Do The Killing
Hot Cup 091
Pastiche, post-modernism and parody are the words that come to mind when examining discs by these youngish interconnected improvisers. Having expanded their chops in post-secondary academic surroundings; having internalized the message of downtowners like John Zorn that no music is sacrosanct; and having adopted the D-I-Y ethic of indie-rockers to release their own recordings – plus possessing formidable talent – these musicians have quickly made names for themselves. Yet as swinging and entertaining as many of the tracks are on these CDs – and they are that in spades – the question of what the next step should be for these seven players hangs in the air.
Recently, Mostly Other People Do The Killing (MOPDTK) has amassed accolades, poll and contest wins and legitimacy as stylists, without any smooth jazz or pop-jazz pandering. All of tracks on Forty Fort – composed with one exception by bassist Moppa Elliott – move with the sort of relentless rhythm that draws in the dilettantes, but also has enough twists and turns in them to impress committed jazzers.
MOPDTK’s parodistic style is most obvious in the packaging. With liner notes by Leonard Featherweight – a jibe at the late jazz critic Leonard Feather – the CD packaging is an exact replica of Roy Haynes’ Out of the Afternoon LP, complete with the four disguised in period sportswear. Saxophonist Jon Irabagon is made up as Rahsaan Roland Kirk, complete with cane and dark glasses; with peaked cap and striped sports shirt trumpeter Peter Evans pretends to be Tommy Flanagan; the dapper Haynes is emulated by drummer Kevin Shea, holding a cymbal, as did the other drummer on the original LP cover; and Elliott replicates the stance and outfit of bassist Henry Grimes. Earlier CD covers by the self-described terrorist bebop band replicate a version of Ornette Coleman’s This is Our Music and Freddie Hubbard’s Night of the Cookers LPs.
Accomplish Jazz’s cover image steers clear of replication, although tellingly particular musical references seem to abound in the pieces composed by guitarist Jon Lundbom. Elliott and Irabagon are on this CD as well, with the quintet filled out by Australian drummer Danny Fischer and tenor saxophonist Bryan Murray, whose leadership of “New York’s only avant-country Merle Haggard cover band” no doubt came in handy when the five tackles The Louvin Brothers’ “The Christian Life” – although no doubt more people know the song from a version by the Byrds.
Besides that cover tune, “Tick-Dog” based on Cedar Walton’s “Bolivia” is the only official contrafact here. Yet throughout memories of themes first played by Eric Dolphy on his Prestige LPs, any number of ECM guitar-oriented sessions, as well as early 1970s Atlantic funk-jazz riffs are in evidence. “Baluba, Baluba” for instance ends the date with a episode of call-and-response hocketing and slurring from the saxophonists, evolved on top of a steady shuffle beat from Fischer. Earlier on, Irabagon’s agitato and andante double tongued stuttering twins Lundbom’s cascading strums and distorted frails to such an extent that the saxophonist may frighten those who only know him as Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition winner.
Big Five Chord’s contradictory side is expressed best on “Phoenetics”, a lyrical waltz that contrast’s Murray’s moderato tenor saxophone lines with guitar strumming and double bass pops. Before a countrified guitar lick changes the piece’s direction, the alto saxophonist lines up with Lundbom’s melodious runs. The remainder of the tune centres on prickly flat-picking, with the guitarist seemingly isolating every note he plays.
Although “The Christian Life” too ends with a recapped head that slips dangerously close to a campfire sing-along, earlier on the nearly vocalized theme alternates with more repeated sing-song textures from the horns which move from moderato to atonal, then to agitato and finally back to moderato. The guitarist’s echoing licks stay in mid-range, while Elliott’s bass solos encompass sul tasto plucks and twangs as well as a walking beat.
Walking, thumping and slapping also characterize Elliott’s bass wok on Forty Fort, with the other members of MOPDTK operating in similar hard and hearty fashion. Hearing Evans whinny and wiggle with brassy Dixieland-styled triplets and Ragtime syncopation on “Pen Argyl” for instance, makes it heard to reconcile that trumpeter with the committed avant gardist, frequently part of saxophonist Evan Parker’s circle. Then again Parker is not known to play over a bugaloo beat complete with chinging cymbals and slap bass lines. Other tunes here reference funk and rock as often s they do Hard Bop or Energy Music with shuffle beats as prominent as sputtering glossolalia.
The title tune for instance is a snaky jazz-dance with the theme spinning between contrapuntally voiced horns and thick bass slaps. Solos include Irabagon’s calculated pitch variations and Evans’ obbligato turning to slithering fortissimo, as one note hovers on top of the bassist’s guitar-like pickling for an extended period. A final variant includes call-and-response from the horns as the speed and velocity of Shea’s drums quicken the pace with ruffs, rim shots and rebounds.
“St. Mary’s Proctor” on the other hand ends up sounding like a broken-octave circus melody that could have been played by the ICP or Italian Instabile orchestras. Evans assays a languid Pino Minafra-like solo which eventually turn staccato, bringing in the nodes and extensions of the notes directly above and below those he’s sounding. Flutter-tongued intensity is the saxophonist’s contribution, while nerve beats and rim shots from the drummer precede a thematic exit in horn double counterpoint.
Elliott’s MOPDTK and Lundbom’s Big Five Chord prove their versatility and skill in many improvised idioms as they accomplish jazz on these two CDs. Each session is a helluva lot of fun for band members and listeners alike. But each leader – and many of the sidefolk – should be asking themselves if fun can be translated into something more profound next time.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Forty: 1. Pen Argyl 2. Rough and Ready 3. Bluer Ball 4. Nanticoke Coke 5. Little Hope 6. Forty Fort 7. Round Bottom, Square Top 8. St. Mary’s Proctor 9. Cute
Personnel: Forty: Peter Evans (trumpet); Jon Irabagon (alto and tenor saxophones); Moppa Elliott (bass) and Kevin Shea (drums)
Track Listing: Accomplish; 1. Truncheon 2. Phoenetics 3. The Christian Life 3. Tick-Dog 4. Baluba, Baluba
Personnel: Accomplish: Jon Irabagon (alto saxophone); Bryan Murray (tenor saxophone); Jon Lundbom (guitar); Moppa Elliott (bass) and Danny Fischer (drums)