“Blue” is the latest album by the modern jazz ensemble, Mostly Other People Do the Killing”, and it features a note-for-note exact recreation of Miles Davis’ classic “Kind of Blue” album. As an album to sit and listen to again and again, "Blue" rates anywhere from zero stars to maybe one half, but as a provocative statement about the nature of jazz and its future, its an easy five star concept album. This album reminds me of John Cage’s classic “4:33”, a conceptually challenging piece that was made up of four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence that tried to prod the listener into listening to the sounds around them as if they were music. To some, Cage’s piece may have seemed like a joke, but for others it was a doorway into seeing not only music in an entirely different way, but the world of perception in general. Although MOPDK is remaining mostly silent about the intent of their “Blue” album, I would imagine that much like how John Cage challenged people’s perception of music, MOPDK seems to be challenging people to consider what is jazz.
By definition, jazz is supposed to have two main ingredients; group improvisation and syncopated rhythms, and this is the sort of thing most jazz fans are looking for in this music they choose. Is an album that re-creates a previous improvisation in an exact note-for-note recording actually a jazz record, I’d have to say of course not, and I think many would agree with me, and I think that’s exactly why this album exists. MOPDK is posing an interesting challenge here, how much copying from the past does it take to kill the spirit in the music.
Hard bop is not a revivalist form of music, because it never really went away in the first place. Instead, much like blues, punk rock, bluegrass or even fusion or free jazz, hard bop is just a classic style of music that is here to stay. There should be no shame for hard bopsters playing the music they love for the fans that appreciate it, but when you see modern album covers that try to capture the look of 60s Blue Note covers, skinny black ties and all, you realize there can be a downside to all this. This “Blue” copycat album seems like a wake up call for those who could be lulled into too much imitation.
But there’s more, what about the future of jazz? Could there some day be a club or group that featured replica’s of classic recordings; Mingus’ “Ah-Um”, “In a Silent Way”, or Ornette’s “Free Jazz”?!?! Possibly “Blue” is meant to be a pre-emptive shot to make sure that doesn’t happen in any sort of unconscious fashion. Thanks to MOPDK, the cat is out of the bag on that idea. There are more issues that this album can raise, but at this point its probably best to let the reader reflect upon this odd album and its cannon of clever ironies and draw their own conclusions.
Having covered the philosophical issues, what about the music itself? MOPDK is a very talented group when they play their modern schtick, but their feel for 60s cool swing is a little on the stiff side, I would imagine worrying about getting all those notes right would add to that. The imitations of Miles, Adderly and Evans aren’t too bad, but the Coltrane sound is hard to listen to for long. Overall, when it comes to making a sly provocative statement, this album is a near masterpiece, but when it comes to something to listen to, its worth almost one listen out of curiosity and thats about it. Congratulations to MOPDK, it took a lot of guts to put this out, as well as a good bit of insight too.
Too give you an idea of the slippery slope that this album hints at, for a moment I couldn’t help myself from wondering how “Blue” could have been improved by having Wallace Roney cover Miles, Brad Mehldau for Evans and Kenny Garrett for Coltrane, and thus begins the unconscious slide into jazz hell, a nightclub that functions as a museum of sorts.