You should really treat with a large pinch of salt the assertion by MOPDtK’s liner note author Leonardo (*ahem*) Featherweight that Slippery Rock, the quartet’s fifth studio album, was inspired by 1980s smooth jazz.
True, composer/bassist Moppa Elliott says that Prince and R. Kelly inspired the writing of “President Polk”, and he describes the likewise rhythm & blues-based “Yeo, Yough, Yo” as “a Lenny Picket inspired free-for-all” (Pickett being Saturday Night Live bandleader, and the former tenor saxophonist with Tower of Power). And slick 80s melodies surface here and there; witness the dash of Kenny G in the sax on “Hearts Content”. But the quartet play with as much power, pugnacity and rhythmic fire here as they ever did.
Active since 2003, MOPDtK have grown ferociously tight, and Kevin Shea’s thunderous drumming on this number is symptomatic of their faith in one another and a collective lack of inhibition.
That first heady rush is leavened by a measured intro to the bluesy “Can’t Tell Shipp From Shohola”, and while Elliott’s bass acts as a fulcrum for some pretty wild extemporisation, MOPDtK never stray far from the melody.
“Sayre” is a tight and punchy rhythm and blues. After saxophonist Jon Irabagon takes a long, impassioned tenor solo, Peter Evans’ trumpet licks trace a more thoughtful trajectory. Elliott works the bass hard throughout, allowing Shea to really wail on his kit. The drummer plays like a demon throughout, and moment to moment there’s no second-guesing him. But no matter how dynamic and extempore the rhythm is he’s always working within it, and invariably he’s right back on it.
“Dexter, Wayne and Mobley” exemplifies how superbly Irabagon and Evans combine, the saxophonist unspooling the melody as Evans becomes garrulous, then taking up the debate as bass and drums explode the rhythm. “Jersey Shore” and “Paul’s Journey to Opp” are group workouts that combine the cool musicality of the Gordon/Mobley class of early 60s Blue Note with the combustication of late 60s Impulse. No other jazz group I know works so firmly within this heritage, so unselfconsciously, and with so much freedom of expression, as MOPDtK.
Apparently (shout if I’m wrong) there’s no lampoon of canonical cover art this time out, but Moppa Elliott is still sourcing album and song titles from the map of Pennsylvania, his home state. Most are pretty straightforward: “President Polk” works because there’s a Pennsylvanian borough named after the USA’s 11th president; likewise, “Is Granny Spry?” – a line of dialogue from the film ‘Bad Santa’ – passes muster thanks to Spry, PA.
For all the lightheartedness of MOPDtK’s presentation they’re a serious proposition. Someone – Shea, no doubt – can’t resist the urge to mimic one of Irabagon’s Hank Mobley-style pecks on “Is Granny Spry?” with a vocal echo, but that’s a one-off; otherwise they play it straight.
Of course, that’s not something that can ever be said of Kevin Shea’s ongoing shenanigans with Mat Mottel as Talibam!
Talibam! – Puff Up The Volume (Critical Heights)
It had to happen. After touring their absurdist prog-panto Discover AtlantASS, Talibam! have stripped their sound back to basics and recorded a Hip-Hop parody in a style that comes with its own hashtag: #noschoolrap.
Well, sort. Although the album is dressed up as Hip-Hop and sounds in places not unlike Insane Clown Posse (witness ICP’s “Dog Catchers”), Puff more accurately parodies post-rap pop, like an etiolated take on The Lonely Island or UK TV’s The Midnight Beast.
Shea and Mottell swap puerile and/or surreal lyrics and comedy-voiced repartee, riffing endlessly on “Jimmies”. They’re like Beavis and Butthead jamming on Beastie Boys, cramming as many syllables as possible into each line. Well, Shea gives it a shot. On “It’s a Tough Day, Hard Day”, Mottel at least has the self-awareness to apologise for his criminal lack of lyrical flow.
“It’s a Tough Day, Hard Day” actually drops the album’s initial in-yr-face tempo for a synth-washed hip-hop anthem that riffs on the old “throw your hands in the air” cliche. It’s one of the few chewns here that actually apes the conventions of commercial Hip-Hop. Mostly, Kevin Shea (‘scuse me, MC K-Wizzle)’s drums and Matt (MC Moaty Mogulz) Mottel’s synth combine much as they did on their pre-AtlantASS album Boogie in the Breeze Blocks, albeit with less stylistic variation. Their blend of freestyle jazz-inspired drumming and funk synth is pretty much unchanged here, just locked into narrower grooves.
If, like me, your gateway Talibam! drug was the 1987 Ordination album (on which all the other guys from MOPDTK guested, by the way), then you should approach Puff up the Volume with caution. We’re a long way from Ordination‘s iconoclastic jazz/improv here.
Where the AtlantASS initiative – a fractured prog/jazz comic book operetta – was colourful and riotously inventive, Talibam!’s latest effort is pallid by comparison, little more than an extended skit. To repurpose a lyrical aside from Shea, it doesn’t make no sense to me.