If you thought the comic avant-garde free-jazz quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing went off the deep end years ago, it just found a deeper spot. Last year’s bizarre album Slippery Rock found bassist Moppa Elliott’s group using smooth jazz to inform its oddball merrymaking. This time he goes all the way back to 1920s-’30s hot jazz. Not only that, but he expands the group to a septet: In addition to trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonist John Irabagon and drummer Kevin Shea, we’ve got Ron Stabinsky on piano, David Taylor on bass trombone and Brandon Seabrook on banjo and electronics.
The music on Red Hot, the band’s sixth studio album, is warped—almost literally. Many of these songs, all of which Elliott composed, sound like someone’s stack of Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong 78s that had been left out in the sun for a few days. On “Zelienople,” for instance, the piano starts and stops, the banjo is plucked maniacally, the drumming is deliberately arrhythmic and the horns solo over one another with little regard for melody and none for harmony. The title track begins with 48 seconds of computer-generated sine wave (is the smoke detector going off?) followed by a few banjo strums and more electronic noises that have no place in traditional jazz. And then, weirdly, the band engages in a very cool tune that interpolates—wait for it—songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
If that’s not enough zaniness for one album, consider “King of Prussia.” The impossible-to-keep-track-of quotations that constitute Stabinsky’s solo range from Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” to Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out.” For all the comedy contained within Red Hot, one never gets the sense that MOPDtK is making fun of hot jazz. Rather, they’re having fun with it. You will be too.