Matthew “Moppa” Elliott grew up listening to his dad’s jazz records, trained as a jazz bassist, and makes his living as a jazz musician. But he doesn’t hesitate to put his finger on the cancer that threatens the creative survival of his favourite musical idiom: perfectionism.
“A lot of the music coming out of the States is lost in this kind of academic purgatory,” he says, on the line from within the LP-lined walls of his Brooklyn apartment. “A lot of guys have been trained to the point that they are capable of executing things really well, but they never really get around to thinking about why they are executing the things that they are executing, or what the overall point is. You get a lot of really good execution of really boring ideas.”
Polished vacuity, however, is not what you’ll get from the 31-year-old bassist’s intriguingly named band, Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Elliott, drummer Kevin Shea, trumpeter Peter Evans, and saxophonist Jon Irabagon are sublimely well-trained players, but all four have vowed to examine themselves—and each other—for any sign of artistic complacency.
“From about 2001 or so, Peter and I started to figure out ways to subvert technique,” Elliott explains. “In fact, this band has talked a whole lot about consciously making the worst possible decision in order to force everyone else to deal with it. We do that quite a bit. Like, something will be going on in the ensemble and it’ll be sounding really cohesive and good, and the thought that pops into my head is ”˜How can I ruin this best?’ ”
On record, at least, this anarchic impulse is reflected in music that exists in a constant state of transformation. The band’s fourth and latest release, Forty Fort, is an exhilarating romp through everything from strutting second line–inspired marches to fractured funk to postbop virtuosity to freeform cacophony, but the thing that’s most notable about MOPDTK’s approach is just how celebratory the music sounds.
“It’s a strange situation that we find ourselves in when someone listens to a jazz record and is surprised when it sounds fun,” Elliott says, laughing. “That being said, I like the word celebratory. All four of us feel that a lot of music, and not just jazz, is very stoic and staid and kind of stiff—and most of the time that’s pretty much unwarranted.”
Mostly Other People Do the Killing plays the Roundhouse Community Arts Centre on Saturday (June 26).