Moppa Elliott: Jazz Band/Rock Band/Dance Band (Hot Cup)

A review of the two-CD set from the bassist

Jazz Band / Rock Band / Dance Band
The cover of by Moppa Elliot

Is there anything Moppa Elliott won’t try? The restless bassist, high school teacher, arranger, composer, and leader of the iconoclastic, genre-hopping, lineup-shifting, avant-jazz band Mostly Other People Do the Killing has done everything from Dixieland destructions to a note-for-note remake of Kind of Blue. On his new two-CD set, the so-very-accurately titled Jazz Band/Rock Band/Dance Band, Elliott presents three “albums” by three groups. Each is excellent on its own. Together they constitute an incomparable offering.

The jazz band—which calls itself Advancing on a Wild Pitch—features trombonist Sam Kulik, baritone saxophonist Charles Evans, pianist Danny Fox, and drummer Christian Coleman. Every one of its songs sounds like an outtake from Mingus Ah Um: the swinging horn interplay on “Herminie,” the Pink Panther slinkiness of “Can’t Tell Shipp From Shohola,” the playful theme of “Oreland.” Over six tunes, Elliott expresses an exuberant fondness for the friskier side of hard bop. (All the songs on these discs are named for cities and towns in Elliott’s home state of Pennsylvania, following the convention he’s used for 15 years.)

It’s a shocking transition to the “rock band,” called Unspeakable Garbage, with tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon, guitarist Nick Millevoi, pianist Rob Stabinsky, and drummer Dan Monaghan. Stabinsky plays some type of transistor organ and an analog synthesizer, with a style that evokes Steve Nieve of Elvis Costello & the Attractions and lends a post-punk feel to the set, most notably on “Punxsutawney” and “Bethlehem.” Lineup be damned, this group clearly has a soft spot for big-hair ’80s stuff. “Big Rock” gives off a Fast Times at Ridgemont High vibe, Millevoi shreds like Satriani on “Drumore,” and Monaghan mimics Tears for Fears drum machines on “Chrome.” Just in case you didn’t get the point, Irabagon intersperses quotes from Wham!’s “Careless Whisper” into his shrieking solo on “Rocks, MD.” There’s also a “Baba O’Riley” reference at the end of “Bethlehem” (early ’70s, yes, but we’ll allow it).

The “dance band” Acceleration Due to Gravity—with trumpeter Nate Wooley, trombonist Dave Taylor, saxophonists Matt Nelson, Bryan Murray and Kyle Saulnier, guitarist Ava Mendoza, pianist George Burton, and drummer Mike Pride—puts on a show with a style drawing on R&B, hip-hop, and blues. A lazy, laid-back flow erupts into full-on skronk on “Waddle,” horns laughing while the rhythm section dares you to the floor. “Power” sounds like John Zorn’s craziest band doing an Alfred Hitchcock score and the Spider-Man theme at the same time. And what the heck is going on in “Energy”? Benny Goodman swing meets rockabilly meets postmodern free improv—or something like that.

It’s all so wild, so free, so … entertaining. You wonder why other bandleaders don’t seem to have this much fun all the time.

Preview, buy or download  Jazz Band/ Rock Band/ Dance Band on Amazon!

Steve Greenlee

Steve Greenlee is the managing editor of the Portland Press Herald in Maine and a former longtime editor and jazz critic at The Boston Globe. He plays keyboards in two local cover bands.