Loving and hating Peter Evans

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I've never seen the confrontational, shticky New York jazz quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing--whenever they've played in Chicago I've either been out town or, uh, couldn't find my car keys. But after their most recent gig here, back in February at the Hungry Brain, I heard an astonishing amount of acrimony in the responses of certain local musicians who'd been at the show (I'd rather not name names, though).

MOPDTK is led by bassist Moppa Elliott and plays its original songs--which are explicitly modeled after classic tunes, forms, and trends of modern jazz, mainly from the 50s and 60s--with a great deal of irreverence and tongue-in-cheek humor. Performances veer off in all kinds of directions, either breaking down into pure chaos or shifting into schlock like prefab disco, and then snap back into form. I happen to love MOPDTK's records, including the brand-new This Is Our Moosic (Hot Cup), but from what I've heard, the band's characteristic diversions are more extreme and absurd onstage, even to the point of self-indulgence.

The cover of This Is Our Moosic tweaks the cover of the classic Ornette Coleman album of (almost) the same name, and in one of MOPDTK's stubborn gimmicks every tune includes the name of an actual town in Pennsylvania (hence "Moosic"). In his liner notes Elliott explains that the group is inspired not only by Coleman, but by the AACM, the ICP Orchestra, and the Clusone 3--all groups that made a virtue out of nonlinearity. While Elliott's band is way more obvious and deliberately stoopid in its humor and has in no way matched the artistry and originality of its influences, his point stands. On its albums at least, the quartet's adoration for those styles remains clear no matter how thick the silliness and mockery get--the band seems keen on pushing jazz cliches to the breaking point.

MOPDTK trumpeter Peter Evans lends his talents to the band's yukfest with outsize gusto, but in other settings he's one of the most serious, focused, and impressive contemporary musicians I've heard--some of the same locals who've reacted to MOPDTK with disgust are awed by Evans's solo work. He has apparently limitless chops and flexibility, plus a profound grasp of not only jazz tradition but also classical and experimental music--and he's only 26! I can't think of another trumpeter of his generation that can match his talent and potential.

I was recently knocked out by some all-improvised sessions Evans recorded with drummer and former Chicagoan Weasel Walter, Bay Area bassist Damon Smith, and reedist and Anthony Braxton alum James Fei--the group has released a CD under its members' names and a limited-edition LP called Oculus Ex Abyssus, with Paul Hartsaw replacing Fei (both are on Walter's label, UgExplode). Evans uses his horn like a paintbrush, and by that I mean he can create broad strokes, splatters, or precise pointillistic prickles. He's an excellent improviser--fleet, responsive, attentive, and bold.

More germane to today's post is [Sparks] (Creative Sources), his recent duet with bassist Tom Blancarte (who also plays on Evans's terrific quartet album for the Firehouse 12 label). The improvised music here, with Evans exclusively on piccolo trumpet, is aggressively abrasive and discordant, delivered with unrelenting intensity--Evans never seems to feel the muscle fatigue that eventually affects most trumpeters' embouchures. One criticism of Evans that I think actually sticks is that he tends to cram a surfeit of ideas and tricks into every bit of music he plays, and he's certainly guilty of that here; in fact, it's sorta difficult to make it through the whole hour of [Sparks] in just one setting. But to me, that's not necessarily a bad thing--there's nothing wrong with a recording that demands time and concentration from the listener.

Evans performs tomorrow night at 7:30 PM at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in a concert presented by the International Contemporary Ensemble. He'll improvise with two ICE members, Dave Remnick on reeds and Nathan Davis on live electronics. There's a $10 suggested donation for those able to pay.

Today's playlist:

Jacob Anderskov & Airto Moreira, Ears to the Ground (ILK)
Murs, Murs for President (Warner Brothers)
James Carter, Present Tense (Emarcy)
Mary Halvorson, Jessica Pavone, Devin Hoff & Ches Smith, Calling All Portraits (Skycap)
Anthony Braxton, Quartet (Moscow) 2008 (Leo)

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