Slippery Rock, the fifth studio album by Mostly Other People Do The Killing (sixth release overall – the live The Coimbra Concert, their only album not to appear on bassist/bandleader Moppa Elliott‘s Hot Cup label, is a must-hear) differs from its predecessors in a few important ways. First, there’s the superficial: Each of their last three discs (2007’s Shamokin!!!, 2008’s This Is Our Moosic, 2010’s Forty Fort, and The Coimbra Concert) has arrived bearing cover art that’s a direct tribute/jokey reference to a classic jazz album. Slippery Rock‘s artwork is an ’80s-style eyesore indebted to no specific jazz title (though it kinda makes me think of Ornette Coleman‘s In All Languages or Cecil Taylor‘s In Florescence). Secondly, and more importantly, there’s the actual sound of the thing.
The production on Slippery Rock is extremely loud and clear; it’s mixed like a rock album. Kevin Shea‘s drums are explosive throughout, his kick sounding more like John Bonham than Elvin Jones and his thundering rolls across the toms capable of rattling your teeth loose. Elliott is similarly aggressive, throbbing like a whale’s heart right in the middle of the mix. Trumpeter Peter Evans and saxophonist Jon Irabagon are given plenty of sonic space to romp and explore, and they do so at length and in a manner that suggests that while nothing is off limits to either man, the primary goal is fun – for themselves and the audience. A big part of MOPDTK’s strategy is subversion; while they work together extremely well, setting up supple grooves and melodic lead lines, they just as frequently throw unexpected noises at each other, particularly live but also in the studio. As Irabagon plays a smooth, traditionalist solo, Evans will sputter, hiss and squawk at him, or vice versa. Shea will sometimes (as on “Dexter, Wayne and Mobley”) erupt into a drum solo behind the horn players, as they continue blithely on, seemingly ignoring him entirely.
Things are raucous from the get-go, and they get seriously wild on tracks like “Jersey Shore” and “Can’t Tell Shipp From Shohola,” the latter of which starts out as a mournful rubato ballad but eventually erupts into clatter and caterwauling. But no matter how far out the band goes, they always retain a fundamental sense of the blues, which keeps them firmly in the “jazz tradition” in the sense that you could play their music for someone totally un-versed in contemporary jazz and they’d say, “Yeah, that’s jazz.” To my ear, they’re somewhere between Wynton Marsalis at his growlingest and Ornette Coleman. Like every MOPDTK disc to date, Slippery Rock is the sound of four guys who are terrific musicians, but also great entertainers.
Below, a video for the track “Yo, Yeo, Yough”: