Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Slippery Rock

Mostly Other People Do the Killing has taken on some pretty sacred cows in jazz over the years. While the group is ultimately out to have a good time rather than put anyone down, its prankish avant-jazz zeal can sometimes be a bit much. Knowing that the band’s new album takes aim at the smooth-jazz genre should elicit equal amounts fascination and dread.

Don’t judge a disc by its cover, but realize the lads have outdone themselves on Slippery Rock‘s pastels-laden artwork, which could belong to any slick jazz album from the ’80s. But beyond the hammy poses and faux lightning bolts, the smooth-jazz influence isn’t all that prominent. Bassist-composer Moppa Elliott is a groove anchor, holding down the fort with simple riffs while his bandmates go wild, but he hasn’t traded in his upright for a fretless electric bass. This is still the MOPDtK that we’ve come to love, full of smart compositions that nearly fall apart under a sea of percussive clatter and horn arguments yet always manage to come out swinging hard.

Slippery Rock features some smooth elements, like the easygoing theme of “Is Granny Spry?” But over that track’s laidback funk and catchy melody, trumpeter Peter Evans growls, harangues and spews Morse code in contrast with Jon Irabagon’s fluid tenor sax, which finally decides to join him rather than beat him.

No MOPDtK album would be complete without bombastic drumming from Kevin Shea. And for all his crashing and tumbling, he still leaves room for subtlety in the 9/8 ballad “Can’t Tell Shipp From Shohola.” Elliott’s compositions might borrow from the slick style, but when he and the band-acoustic all the way-get cooking, they’re anything but smooth.