Friday, February 19, 2016

Mostly Other People Do The Killing - Mauch Chunk (2015)

It’s not surprising that nowadays everyone and anyone has a usually quite strong opinion about NYC’s Mostly Other People Do the Killing, the ensemble led and directed by bassist Matthew "Moppa" Elliott. By crafting their style around honest and loving (a fact that many seem to miss!) deconstructions and pseudohomages to almost every genre from the history of jazz (which includes some sacred cows), they pushed themselves into the spotlight of mainstream crowds and, at the same time, raised some eyebrows between (free) jazz connoisseurs and aficionados. Just by perusing the reviews published on this blog, their mission is made simultaneously clear and unclear by the array of conflicting and dissenting opinions. Revered by some, despised and misunderstood by others, Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s approach and attitude puzzles and freaks out, revealing post-modern tendencies behind their superficial facets of mere entertainers.

That’s why Mauch Chunk is exactly the unexpected type of release that we’ve come to expect  from a band that continues to surprise even when they, like this time around, go exploring one of the most rehashed and tired of jazz subgenres: post- and hard-bop. It's largely thanks to the musicians' varied playing styles and approaches and Elliott’s intricate compositions that the band's well-known M.O. hasn't become stale even after ten years. The recipe that they follow appears to be so deceivingly simple. Take a page from the book of (classic) jazz and rewrite it with great care to follow some new, fresh narrative brimming with improvisations and quirky playing. Of course, remember to add a healthy serving of spontaneous and sincere humour (a fact that many seem to be irked by!) which is obviously (to me, at least) never a result of attempts at pandering to audiences. Mauch Chunk thus feels both like a return to roots for the band, revisiting stylistic locations in which their experimentations began, and a new beginning with pianist Ron Stabinsky taking the place of trumpeter Peter Evans as one of the four core members. This change, in turn, also resulted in a shift of Elliott’s compositions towards relatively piano-centered pieces.

Because of that, at first glance Mauch Chunk might appear as a display of the band taking a safer road than on some of their previous records, staying closer to those original hard-bop idioms and tropes, but the flow found just beneath the surface is as inspiring and joyful as ever. The seven short, compact compositions, named as usual after towns in Pennsylvania, are all carefully, intelligently thought out, each bearing a dedication to the individuals that influenced them, yet never feeling overwrought or unoriginal. Elevating the already solid compositions, Jon Irabagon, Kevin Shea, Ron Stabinsky, and Moppa Elliott all contribute their own sparks to the music with short quotations and wild, unpredictable references (I won’t spoil these), improvisational dialogues, and mutedly outrageous piano and saxophone solos.

There are as many variations in group dynamics as there are songs on the record. Jon Irabagon leads the way and veers on the edge of extended techniques on opening “Mauch Chunk Is Jim Thorpe” (dedicated to Henry Threadgill) before things completely fall apart and reassemble themselves. Jon Stabinsky flexes his fingers and counterpoints Irabagon’s licks on the ever accelerating and rolling, dissonant “Obelisk” (inspired by Dave Holland’s music). The whole group, lead by Shea’s drumming, toys with rhythms and time signatures on the bossa nova-infused “West Bolivar” (to Caetano Veloso), while the final “Mehoopany” tries to close the record on a dreamy, contemplative note, only to have Shea’s drumming, the single constantly disruptive element, foretell and introduce the ensuing chaos. In all of these cases, the music underlined by masterful playing never fails to captivate and reward, tickling the mind with the possibility of the material developing even further when performed live.

While Stabinsky’s first proper introduction also brings about an air of change for the group, with Evans’ furious playing replaced by more structured, toned down piano phrases, this is still the Mostly Other People Do the Killing we all know and enjoy. A hint of hidden, unrevealed potential within Stabinsky’s playing and Elliott’s evolving and expanding compositional methods are sure signs that we’ll yet be seeing lots of great stuff from these guys.

Mauch Chunk is Jim Thorpe (for Henry Threadgill)
West Bolivar (for Caetano Veloso)
Obelisk (for Dave Holland)
Niagra (for Will Connell)
Herminie (for Sonny Clark)
Townville (for Brieanne Beaujolais)
Mehoopany (for Frank Fonseca)

Jon Irabagon: alto saxophone
Ron Stabinsky: piano
Moppa Elliott: Bass
Kevin Shea: drums


Karolina Strassmayer & Drori Mondlak - Of Mystery And Beauty (2016)

Label: Drori Mondlak

Recorded at Bayerische Rundfunk Studio in Nürnberg, Germany in co-production with BR KLASSIK.
With their newest recording Of Mystery And Beauty alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer and drummer Drori Mondlak continue their creative collaboration that began in New York City in 2000.
In their seventh recording together their vision has crystallized into an original and deeply personal sound.
Strassmayer and Mondlak consider this collection of original compositions and solo improvisations to be their most powerful recording to date.
KLARO! fuses the romanticism of European classical and folk music with the rhythmic fire and swing of American jazz and the harmonic sophistication of contemporary improvised music.
Pianist Rainer Böhm and bassist John Goldsby complete the quartet.
“Beauty means different things to different people. But there is a universal truth about it, regardless of taste and aesthetic; beauty has the power to move the heart,” says Karolina Strassmayer.
Internationally renowned journalist Hrayr Attarian writes….
“Simultaneously unconventional and accessible Of Mystery and Beauty is an imaginative work. With charm and intelligence it eschews both abstruseness and banality. It engrosses with its diversity yet remains conceptually cohesive. It stimulates and moves with its ingenious complexity and fascinating fluidity. In short it is, to date, Strassmayer and Mondlak's finest disc and one that surely will stand the test of time..” 

01. From Her Pale Blue Home (7:46)
02. Of Mystery And Beauty (9:05)
03. Postcard From A Quiet Place (6:25)
04. Fanfare From Another World (7:27)
05. Wandering (7:18)
06. Gently Spoke The Mermaid (6:43)
07. Four Us All (4:08)
08. Of Space And Rest (6:38)
09. Side To Side (5:00)
10. Cascades (3:54)
11. Still In Her Ears (5:22)

Karolina Strassmayer: alto saxophone, flute
Drori Mondlak: drums
John Goldsby: bass
Rainer Böhm: piano  



Mostly Other People Do The Killing - Hannover (Live) 2015

As many have noted during the years, Mostly Other People Do the Killing are a band that, while really enjoyable to listen through the medium of recorded music, come fully into their own during concerts. It’s on these occasions, in small clubs and intimate venues, that the listeners get to experience the unfiltered and unhinged impact of Moppa Elliott’s idiosyncratic vision, his often ingenious compositions, and the improvisations that Peter Evans (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (saxophone), Kevin Shea (drums, electronic effects), and Elliott himself (double bass) twist and twirl around the composed guidelines. Their approach is rooted in the past but open to the present and sometimes childishly anxious to explore the future.

Hannover captures one of the quartet’s performances from early 2014 in Hannover, Germany. It’s a recording, rich in tone and with well-placed auditive cues, that both provides a snapshot of the group’s live performances and sublimates their whole career. Because of that, to talk about Hannover is to talk about this band’s entire output. In that regard, Hannover once again demonstrates how Mostly Other People Do the Killing are an ensemble that feels and understands jazz, a collective of musicians that insist on imbuing their music with a jovial and contemporary sense, dismissing mainstream ideas of jazz as evergreen-laden, immutable, and dust covered music. Not an echo of an age long gone nor a relict of the past, but a live and alive music that simultaneously questions and cherishes its traditions and heritage.

Hannover works as a fairly good approximation of the group’s live energy, as much as realistically possible for a static representation of music. The feeling of authenticity is augmented by the arrangements of the tracks which are, as is customary for Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s shows, segmented into sets and suites that flow from one composition to another, interrupted, broken into pieces, and punctuated by solo escapades and amusing detours. The result? A record that feels fragmented by the very nature of the band, yet cohesive despite the apparent disregard for structure. One segment might begin with the musicians indulging in pure swing, hard-bop or even cool jazz, but will then, on a whim, start breaking under the stress of subtly invasive anachronisms - electronic effects, solos, and improvisations akin to the aesthetics of contemporary jazz and electroacoustic music. It takes but a few beats for the musicians to jump from the honest enthusiasm of exploring jazz’s standard phrases to the deconstruction and subversion of those same licks. Yet, in all of this apparent chaos, with the group not afraid to visit pop and rock idioms, purposefulness and new structures emerge.

Between the uncharacteristically characteristic groove and melody on “Pen Argyl / Ulysses At Troy / Andover / Blue Ball / Effort, Patience, Diligence” and the sparkly climax on “My Delightful Muse / Hideaway / A Night In Tunisia”, Hannover gives us a chance to experience time and again the mischievous attitude exposed through Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s individual and collective explorations and the constant dichotomies of modern jazz, improvised music, and well-known jazz traditions.

Peter Evans: trumpet and piccolo trumpet
Jon Irabagon: tenor and sopranino sax
Moppa Elliott: double bass
Kevin Shea: drums and electronics

1. Pen Argyl / Ulysses at Troy / Andover / Blue Ball / Effort, Patience, Diligence 30:13
2. Is Granny Spry? / Dunkelbergers / Baden / Little Hope 19:36
3. President Polk 7:18
4. My Delightful Muse / Hideaway / A Night in Tunisia 21:38

Pen Argyl / Ulysses at Troy / Andover / Blue Ball / Effort, Patience, Diligence

Craig Wuepper - Storytelling (2014)

Label: Cellar Live
Source: Craig Wuepper

Craig is a native of Michigan, born into a musical family (mother and grandfather were musicians). He has worked and recorded in New York City since 1994. Became a regular sub at Augies jazz bar in the late nighties, playing w/ Cecil Payne, Eddie Henderson, Eric Alexander, David Hazeltine, Mike Ledonne, Mike Dirubbo. Around 2000, began a musical project featuring David Schnitter, Harry Whitaker and Pat O'Leary which recorded and had limited public performances. His first two recording projects were immediately released commercially. The Returnsman, released on Double-Time records in 2001. A trio effort, The Sound of Harry Whitaker, was released on Fresh Sound records in 2002. Also performed professionally w/ John Hicks, Bob Cranshaw, Ralph Lalama, Barry Harris, Jerry Weldon, "Preacher" Robbins during this period. In 2004-2005 Craig dissappeared briefly and moved to Portland, Oregon to practice and reexamine his musical path. In 2005, Craig was drawn back to the city as a member of the the Cedar Walton quartet/quintet featuring Vincent Herring and Steve Turre, peforming at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club Cola. Most recently, Craig is back home in New York playing around NYC w/Earsight, a jazz quartet featuring pianist Paul Odeh and bassist Essiet Essiet, w either Josh Evans, David Schinitter or Mike Dirubbo on horn. His second record as a leader, "Leaps and Bounds" was released in 3/2013 on the Cellar Live label. "Storytelling" featuring Harry Whitaker will be released May 13 also on the Cellar Live label. 

1. The Children and the Warlock
2. Snapshot
3. A Little Monkish Music, Please!
4. Angilalanga
5. Samson
6. Song for Joe
7. Blues for the Piano Players
8. For All We Know
9. The Children and the Warlock (Narrated Version)

HARRY WHITTAKER - piano/prepared piano/spoken word
DAVID SCHNITTER - tenor saxophone/vocals
PAT O’LEARY - bass



Wes Montgomery - One Night in Indy (2016)

Never-before-released recording of legendary guitarist Wes Montgomery playing with jazz pianist Eddie Higgins. An exclusive 1959 performance recorded live in Indianapolis.

Resonance Records is proud to release the CD edition of Wes Montgomery One Night In Indy, an exclusive 1959 live recording of the jazz-guitar great playing with the legendary jazz pianist Eddie Higgins and his trio in Indianapolis, Indiana. Available on January 15, 2016, the CD edition follows the release of the 12" LP limited-edition pressing for Record Store Day’s Black Friday event on November 27, 2015 (originally scheduled for last April’s Record Store Day event, but was held up due to a production snafu). Early in 2015, Resonance Records released the acclaimed In the Beginning, newly discovered recordings of Montgomery from 1949-1958.

In 2013, producer Zev Feldman was approached by the late, great Indiana photojournalist Duncan Schiedt with an enticing musical proposition (the two had become friends while working on the Wes Montgomery Echoes of Indiana 2012 Resonance release). Schiedt asked if Resonance would be interested in a prized recording he had in his possession — a 7" tape reel featuring a January 18, 1959 performance by Montgomery and the Eddie Higgins Trio, the only known documentation of any date featuring the guitarist and the pianist.

According to producer Feldman, Duncan and few of his friends ran a jazz club in Indianapolis known as the Indianapolis Jazz Club (or the I.J.C. known to locals). As Feldman describes in his essay included in the release, “The club was described to me as a group of people who had a common interest in jazz and who gathered to listen to records and host concerts.” Members of this club recorded this one-night-only performance of Wes Montgomery playing with the Eddie Higgins Trio. Feldman notes that Duncan “explained that this tape had been passed down to him by other members of the club, though no one had actually listened to it. Duncan was one of the last original members and hoped this tape would, one day, be released in partnership with the artists’ families.”

Resonance Records is pleased to honor this request and release One Night In Indy with the blessings of the Wes Montgomery Estate and Eddie Higgins’s widow, Meredith D’Ambrosio, whom Feldman found via Sunnyside Records president François Zalacain. This recording is a gift from Duncan Schiedt to Wes Montgomery fans, decades after the memorable performance.

The specially priced CD features just over 40 minutes of music. Accompanying these notable headliners is Chicago drum legend Walter Perkins (a former drummer for Ahmad Jamal’s trio before Vernell Fournier) and an unidentified bassist (to identify this musician Resonance consulted Higgins alumni Bob Cranshaw and John Bany, along with fellow Chicago bass legends from that era, to no avail).

Feldman notes, “I'm grateful to Duncan for his lasting friendship and for sharing this with the world to hear.  It is nothing short of incredible that after decades of no new Montgomery music, Resonance has brought to light new documents that will help Wes's legacy live on — In the Beginning (2015), Echoes of Indiana Avenue (2012), and, thanks to Duncan, One Night In Indy.” Since releasing Echoes of Indiana Ave, Resonance has located additional of unreleased 1950’s archival Montgomery recordings and plans to release more music in late 2016/2017.

With his artistic sensibility of an Indianapolis cityscape view, Burton Yount designed the album cover. Mixing and sound restoration is by Fran Gala and executive producer George Klabin at the Resonance Records Studios.

1. Give Me the Simple Life (9:14)
2. Prelude to a Kiss (5:52)
3. Stompin’ at the Savoy (7:12)
4. Li’l Darling (8:09)
5. Ruby, My Dear (8:35)
6. You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To (2:51)