Noted post-bop quartet (yes, that’s an almost breathtakingly reductive description, but whatever) Mostly Other People Do The Killing (to be referred to by their initials for the rest of this review) have used their own CD covers to pay tribute to classic jazz releases for several years now. Shamokin!, released in 2007, bore a cover inspired by Art Blakey‘s A Night in Tunisia; 2008’s This is Our Moosic took both title and cover image from Ornette Coleman; and 2010’s Forty Fort nodded to Roy Haynes‘ Out of the Afternoon. This, their latest release, is easily the most audacious cover-cover yet, poking fun at Keith Jarrett‘s The Köln Concert, offering both front and gatefold photos of the four bandmembers (none of whom is a pianist) hunched grimacing over the keyboard.
The two-CD set was recorded at a pair of shows the group performed at the 2010 Jazz ao Centro festival in Portugal. The first set runs just over an hour, the second about 50 minutes. Describing MOPDTK’s music is difficult; simply playing it for someone, and watching a broad grin split their face, would be much easier. The quartet (trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist/composer Moppa Elliott, drummer Kevin Shea) combine hard bop’s melodic heads, the conversational, polyphonic interplay that characterizes the work of both Louis Armstrong and Albert Ayler, and an infectious spirit of fun, creating a music that swings ridiculously hard, displays wild technical skill without ever going so far out that a relative jazz neophyte couldn’t follow along, and is a joy to hear.
The liner notes offer the following intriguing explanation of the music, one which with only slight tweaking, would kinda work for live jazz as a whole:
“Each track listed here is titled after the composition by Moppa with which it opens. Many other songs and musical elements, by Moppa and otherwise, appear and disappear over the course of each performance. In the interest of space and convenience, they are not listed.”
Elliott’s compositions, as presented here, have catchy main melodies and uptempo rhythmic beds; they launch forward with no hesitation, and swing/bounce along, only occasionally stopping for an unaccompanied solo. The 33-minute version of “Blue Ball” that closes Disc One, for example (and which also includes a double-time interpolation of “A Night in Tunisia”), allows saxophonist Irabagon and trumpeter Evans to blow complex, rippling lines for minutes at a time before the band catapults the groove into motion once more. Sometimes weird things happen; on Disc Two, a version of “St. Mary’s Proctor” is interrupted by a long passage during which Evans (who does a lot of extremely experimental work in other contexts) creates a low, almost didjeridoo-like tone with his horn, eventually being joined by a softly squawking, valve-popping Irabagon and some electronics from Elliott. Later in the same piece, Evans solos in a wildly emotive, hard bop fashion as Irabagon digs his teeth into a looping, repetitive phrase he must be using circular breathing to keep going for as long as he does.
The two discs may not be balanced equally between short, punchy pieces and extended workouts for the band (though the second set does a better job of this, since it doesn’t feature anything even half as long as “Blue Ball”), but the momentum and energy never flag, so it hardly matters when a piece passes the 10- or even the 15-minute mark. There’s plenty of laughter from the bandstand, as the musicians seem to react with wonder to their own creations, and that in turn inspires the audience to great enthusiasm. In both its sound and its feeling of great in-the-moment creativity bound to but not by tradition, The Coimbra Concert is simultaneously reminiscent of two superficially very different jazz documents: Wynton Marsalis‘s seven-CD Live at the Village Vanguard box, from 1999, and Sonny Rollins‘s Our Man in Jazz, a 1962 live album that found him playing as freely as he’s ever done on disc, backed by Don Cherry on cornet, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Billy Higgins. The interplay between Evans and Irabagon reminds me of Rollins and Cherry’s light-footed musical exchanges, while the churning, bluesy, adventurous yet always swinging rhythm work of Elliott and Shea reminds me of the Marsalis set, particularly at its most New Orleans-esque. Whether you’re familiar with MOPDTK’s studio albums or not (I’m not), this is an exciting, joyful album that could convert anyone to fervent fandom. Highly, highly recommended.