Modern Jazz Quartet: Mostly Other People Do the Killing

Betsy Bloom

On the night of Sunday, November 13, there was probably only one person in Ham­ilton, New York playing the drums with their chin – that person was Kevin Shea, drummer for the modern jazz quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing. The group performed this weekend at Donovan’s Pub and, as you may have guessed, put on quite a show.

Besides Shea, the New York-based quartet is composed of saxophonist John Irabagon, bassist Moppa Elliott and trumpeter Peter Evans. Formed in 2003, the group has pro­duced three critically acclaimed albums and toured all over the U.S. and Europe. Their genre is defined as experimental/jazz/screa­mo and infuses elements of swing, rock, pop and pretty much every other style of music you have ever been exposed to. One minute you’re humming along to a familiar big-band-esque tune and the next thing you know it sounds like you’re listening to a ga­rage band that just installed new amps. This is not your grandparents’ jazz.

The band’s performance at Donovan’s Pub attracted a good crowd for a Sunday night (when most of us have pledged ourselves to the library). Students and professors sat around the tables while the band jammed on the stage. Several students enrolled in As­sociate Professor and Chair of Music Glenn Cashman’s History of Jazz class were there to observe and take notes on the band’s unique style and experimental techniques.

And unique it certainly was. Bassist Mop­pa Elliott is responsible for the band’s com­positions and infuses his own personality and creativity into each one. A native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Moppa has chosen to title all of his compositions after cities and towns in that state. In introducing one of the earlier pieces, “Evan City,” Elliott reminded the au­dience that the town was the setting for Night of the Living Dead. This fact helped to explain the eerie buzzing sound echoing from Peter Evans’s trumpet. At one point, it somehow managed to sound like all the instruments were dying, only to come back full force with an upbeat and almost manic quality.

All of the compositions reflected this vari­ance. The tunes often switched abruptly, channeling different musical styles through­out the course of a piece (and occasionally si­multaneously). Every member of the quartet had a chance to show their stuff in incredibly impressive solos. Peter Evans played the trum­pet with such vigor and passion that it almost looked like he might lose control of his in­strument; John Irabagon exuded soul on the sax and Moppa Elliott did things with a bass I didn’t even know were possible (his hands were moving so fast they actually blurred). As for drummer Kevin Shea, playing with his chin was just the tip of the iceberg.

Other People Do the Killing put on such a unique and remarkable show that it’s difficult to find the right words to describe the experi­ence of their live performance. One audience member might have summed it up best: After a particularly energetic composition, he sim­ply exclaimed, “Whoa!”

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