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Slippery Rock!-- Mostly Other People Do the Killing

The liner notes to MOPDtK's fifth studio album are almost too clever for words, as the quartet's fictitious resident jazz critic Leonardo Featherweight gives tongue-in-cheek praise to smooth jazz and its "singable melodies, the unwavering rhythm section, triadic harmonies, and smooth improvisations." The purported intent of this project was to inject smooth jazz elements into the music, but MOPDtK's followers can rest assured that the group only affords a passing glance to the genre before proceeding in its usual ebullient and adventuresome fashion, breaking up the melodies and rhythms at will. About the only predictable things here are composer Moppa Elliott's penchant for using the names of towns in his native Pennsylvania in his song titles, and in the now expected salvo launching the CD. Otherwise, bassist Elliott, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, trumpeter Peter Evans, and drummer Kevin Shea run the gamut from post bop to the avant garde, with tangential stops here and there, and smooth jazz devotees will find little to enjoy.

Shea's fiery drum solo opens "Hearts Content" and the CD in keeping with MOPDtK's previous studio releases. The theme is a bluesy romp that dissolves into lively counterpoint between Irabagon's tenor and Evans' trumpet. Irabagon's solo is an intense post bop swirl that is soon answered by Evans as the duo engage in an unrestrained yet complementary dialogue. The saxophonist's upper register overtones cap this tempestuous track. "Can't Tell Shipp from Shohola" has a relaxed 6/8 groove that brings to mind the Art Ensemble of Chicago, especially with Evans sounding much like Lester Bowie in his tonal manipulations. His contrapuntal passages with Irabagon are again provocative but immensely listenable. The tenor's bleats and squawks mesh with Evans ripples and runs, as Shea aggressively comments and provokes. "Sayre" is "based on the compositional clichés of 1980s smooth jazz," but the liberties taken make it the group's own thing. Shea's cantankerous drum work and Irabagon's avant garde improv are the antithesis of the smooth jazz genre. Evans' trumpet solo commences in a mellow vein but quickly takes an off-kilter turn. Elliott's steady bass line near the end is in contrast to the frenzied exchange of ideas by the two horns, and Shea's free-form attack.

"President Polk" is inspired by R&B artists such as Prince and R. Kelly. With Irabagon on sopranino sax and Evans on piccolo trumpet, this slow-paced piece flutters and flies in the very upper ranges, sometimes emotionally high-strung or tremulous, but often just harmonically dissonant. "Yeo, Yough, Yo," influenced by saxophonist Lenny Pickett, is an all-out escapade, with Shea's relentless but in touch rhythms propelling spirited, probing solos by Evans and Irabagon. The theme is twisted and undulating, handled by the horns with obvious relish and a loose flexibility. Evans' unbridled sound effects introduce "Dexter, Wayne and Mobley," and continue on as Irabagon presents a serenely loping circular theme, with the trumpeter joining him from time to time when not off on his own with starkly divergent variations. Tenor and trumpet then joust confidently in collective flights of fancy before Evans' long tones end it all. Whether the title fits the music in this case is for each listener to decide.

For "Jersey Shore," fluctuating melodies and vamps are utilized to build tension and generate improvised call-and-response bursts from the two horns, woven with attentiveness to each other's creative output, and with a lucidity that is both becoming and entertaining. When Irabagon and Evans have had their say, they abruptly stop rather than overstay their welcome. The front line briskly dissembles the whirlwind theme of "Paul's Journey to Opp," while Shea energizes the process. A succinct quote from "C Jam Blues" initiates Evans and Irabagon's cascading trades and blended segments. The opening of "Is Granny Spry?," is about as close to true smooth jazz as you'll hear anywhere on this CD. However, languid held notes, a fixed rhythm, and an easy-going melody are soon overwhelmed by discordant harmonies and then Evans' crowing solo, with its allusions to Haydn's trumpet concerto. Irabagon's spot is all over the map, with lusty phrasing and churning congregations of notes. The ending is a reprise of sorts, its calming vibe interspersed with honks from Irabagon.

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Scott Albin