New York's brilliant band takes on Miles Davis' classic "Kind of Blue" in a note-for-note recreation, a head-scratching anomaly that is as close to performing a perfect replica as is imaginable.
Mostly Other People Do The Killing
Label: Hot Cup Records
Released in: USA
"Miles Davis drew millions into modern jazz. We can follow his career from Charlie Parker style bop through Cool Jazz, from his fiery sides with Coltrane and Cannonball to the 60s freer and more conceptual work with Shorter, Hancock, Carter & Williams, ultimately going electric and (arguably) spawning jazz-rock fusion. Many wouldn't be the listeners they are without him, as he led generations to understand the layers of jazz evolution while sweeping up rock fans into a music that appealed to both sides. Unquestionably, he was a remarkable artist.
Perhaps Miles' most undeniable album is Kind of Blue. A culmination of modal concepts that bring freedom to its performers, it's both a beautifully introspective and incredibly complex record with unhurried pacing and innovative soloing. Books have been written about it. Countless covers have been made of the album's five tracks. It is a treasured item in many a jazz fan's collection, and the US Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry. What more could you want from this album?
According to the New York band Mostly Other People Do the Killing, a complete recreation. Note for note. Inflection for inflection. Leading to the question:
MOPDTK's bandleader Moppa Elliot once wrote:
"I would rather make music that uses jazz's identity crisis against it, piling as many nonsensical musical associations together as possible to create music that is aware of its own inconsistencies, ironies, and contradictions and likes it that way. Standing on the shoulders of giants makes it easier to kick them in the teeth."
The members of MOPDTK thrive in this crisis and are a superb example of contemporary players well educated in the history of jazz and improvised music. Individually, they have released albums of straight ahead, free, and experimental improvised forms. MOPDTK's albums are brilliant examples of technically excellent playing, creating intensely enjoyable and interesting music both for the listener and for the players themselves. They have innovated and poked a stick in the eye of jazz while borrowing from the past masters.
So one asks again, why release a note-for-note copy of a classic album when you can create something new? Why do it, knowing that it might infuriate those who worship this record as an untouchable masterpiece?
First and foremost, MOPDTK achieves their goal: listening to the album, it's difficult not to think that it's Miles'. The subtleties of the original performance are captured beautifully, and there's no doubt that great care was put into the reconstruction, level of accuracy in transcription, study, and the execution is impressive. If you know Kind of Blue obsessively well, you'll notice sonic transgressions, slight details that tip you off; it's like a great forgery that hangs in a gallery for decades before being found out.
For all its perfection, Blue brings up a contradiction: Miles Davis recorded his version in two sessions with hardly any preparation or rehearsal. Elliott says that three years went into the group's recreation, and that the first work on the album started almost 10 years ago. What other "jazz" record has that much preparation time?
Is what MOPDTK recorded here heretical in its own way? It's essentially a transcription, something typically used for educational purposes, bringing a player into contact with the thought process and execution of a master long after their improvisation is complete. It's a valuable study, helping players absorb and reflect the history of past jazz performers. But typically it's a means to an end, not intended for performance in a "real" jazz setting. Playing a transcribed solo sounds like jazz, but in practice it's more like a composed piece. Even Miles was called into question for this on his 1969 In a Silent Way, in part because Teo Macero edited the album to drop the same 6 minutes of music in the front and end of the first track. Modern listeners don't have a problem with the concept, but for its day many considered it sacrilege.
Or is this just a big joke for MOPDTK, straight-jacketing a form intended for freedom and variation to piss off jazz critics? This is a brilliantly executed album by an extraordinary band, despite the process or the music's origination. Did they want to kick the giants in the teeth? If so they might have turned the tables on Miles, but they didn't: this is homage, so lovingly created that it's clear that this record is in their hearts.
In the end, the album will make those familiar with the original listen, and listen closely. Perhaps all improvised music should be subject to the same level of scrutiny. Whatever your relationship to this or the original, Blue is an anomaly in jazz history that asks more questions about what jazz really is than it answers. My guess is, for MOPDTK, that's all the fun."-Phil Zampino, The Squid's Ear
At The Squid's Ear!
Related Categories of Interest:
NY Downtown & Jazz/Improv
Melodic and Lyrical Jazz
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Label: Hot Cup Records
Catalog ID: Hot Cup 141
Squidco Product Code: 19577
Recorded at Oktaven Audio in New York City, New York, by Ryan Streber.
Jon Irabagon-alto saxophone, tenor saxophone
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