If you’re into the jazz scene at all, you’ll probably have read something recently about Mostly Other People Do the Killing‘s brand new album, “Blue.” There has been a good deal of controversy surrounding the release, most of which I feel is silly, but I have really enjoyed contemplating some of the questions raised in the process. The concept of the album is that they decided to recreate, note-for-note, as closely as possible, the iconic 1959 jazz album “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. Some critics and fans seemed to be kind of upset about it, which I find amusing. How upset can you really be at a piece of instrumental music these days?
I find it fascinating in a sort of performance-art way: they managed to closely recreate one of the most iconic jazz albums in the world, but since they removed all aspects of improvisation in the performance – turning it into a piece of music where every intonation and grace note is on the sheet music – it is, in some way, no longer jazz, since most people consider improvisation one of the core principles of jazz. It’s a very strange thing to do, and also kind of pointless, because how many fans are really going to buy an identical copy of an album they either already own or never wanted in the first place? (I assume the number of MOPDtK fans who don’t own “Kind of Blue” because they’ve never heard it are vanishingly small…) It is worth mentioning that all profits from the album are being donated to charity, so at least critics of the concept can’t accuse MOPDtK of trying to profit off of cultural appropriation, yadda yadda yadda.
But I think it is highly successful as a piece of modern art, because it makes you think about all sorts of big philosophical arty questions. I mean, I haven’t even HEARD the album and it has that effect, that’s pretty amazing. It’s probably somehow very meta that I downloaded a review copy and never got around to listening to it. But you can listen to a track here if you can get over all of the existential angst involved:
Anyway, all that was simply background to tell you that I went to the CD release concert for “Blue” a few days ago, in part because they promised they weren’t going to play music from it, presumably because it would be just as pointless as the album itself and would add more layers of WTF (I mean, really, if you play a live jazz concert of your not-jazz copy of a yes-jazz record, do you improvise or do you do the note-for-note recreation again? If you improvise, aren’t you just doing a straight-up cover of the original and not the music from your record, anyway? But it would probably be impossible to do a recreation in a live setting, even if you wanted to, so… argh. It makes my head hurt).
The concert was at Cornelia Street Cafe, where I’d never been before – it is a cool venue although extremely tiny. We got front row seats after the first dozen or so people in the door didn’t want to sit there because it was too close. Of course, I laugh in the face of such challenges as “too close.” 😉 It was pretty point-blank, though:
I had a lot of fun at the concert – as jazz bands go, MOPDtK have a lot more humor than most, and they’re also very talented musicians, so it’s hard not to enjoy yourself at one of their shows. They do a lot of fast-paced medleys, swinging back and forth between different pieces, most of which are named after small towns in Pennsylvania. (Everyone has their own approach to coming up with names for instrumentals, I guess…) I enjoyed having a seat right next to pianist Ron Stabinsky, as I used to play the piano and it’s always been one of my favorite instruments. He’s very entertaining to watch and listen to, and like everyone in the band his playing is masterful. Overall it was a great night of music, albeit a bit more conventional, jazz-wise, than I usually listen to.
I wish I could tell you when their future tour dates are, because I would recommend going to see them, but I can’t find a website with this information on it anywhere. I guess they like to retain a sense of mystery in their scheduling.