Humor should always be welcome in jazz. The music is tacitly intellectual, so an injection of wit can be helpful, whether coming in the form of whimsical exchange or wiseacre glee. Mostly Other People Do The Killing builds its esthetic on the latter, but does its best work when the former is in full play. With fluid banter central to the action, bassist-composer Moppa Elliott and his cohorts use a steady stream of quips to make their points on the new This Is Our Moosic. They may be serious improvisers, but they know from droll.
Part of this playfulness is shtick. The New York quartet’s pieces are named after towns in Pennsylvania (Fagundus, Dunkelbergers, Belfry), and the CD cover is a nifty replica of Ornette’s similarly titled original. But a more important part is MOPDTK’s willingness to grant its brainy maneuvers enough wiggle room to make space for some slapstick. They run an “ancient to the future” esthetic here, kicking ersatz boogaloos, mock jump tunes, and Raymond Scott echoes to infinity and beyond. As trumpeter Peter Evans filters a blues vocab through an extended technique lingo of blasts and squalls, alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon (who recently won the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition) chirps and spirals to punctuate Elliott’s ditties. Throughout, they specialize in the kind of freebop that puts the fun up front.
Of course, the silliness would scan as trite if the playing lacked weight. It doesn’t. The band’s signature trait is a splashy collective oomph that’s reliant on genuine poise. Even while flying around the wild blue yonder they’re terrifically tight. Drummer Kevin Shea loves him some Han Bennink (check his percussion solo/puppet show during “A Night in Tunisia” on YouTube), and he’s a firestarter throughout; there’s not a measure of Moosic where he doesn’t sustain the action with rattling swing. Along with his mates, he concocts an atmosphere of controlled flamboyance.
Always brash, often giddy – no wonder pundits are saying MOPDTK is making jazz more entertaining. True, they probably couldn’t exist without “Chippie” and the Art Ensemble and Sex Mob and “Eat That Chicken” and The Bad Plus, but as they sort through the good stuff that came before them, they generate some pretty good stuff themselves. Call ’em Old and New Dreams for the MySpace generation, and realize that their wit is the red blood that fuels the gray matter.