It’s the kind of po-faced folly that is infuriating to so many, instantly – and always – polarising. Here, a band of incredibly talented players has gone about recreating Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. That seminal album of modal jazz – regularly rated as the very best, or at the very least (and this almost seems churlish) one of the most important albums in modern jazz – has here been copied, note for note, breath for breath, strike for strike, the intention – and this might turn you off instantly – was to get as close as possible to that original recording.
This means tape hiss and facsimiles of solos by Wynton Kelly and Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderley. It means a bunch of smug and pleased-with-themselves “students of jazz” not merely wrestling with these masters but impersonating them.
Now, none of this could work if Mostly Other People didn’t already have a fascinating catalogue that showcases their quite extraordinary talents across a range of – always – original music.
That’s what makes their kind of Blue interesting. Were this just upstarts sincerely paying tribute it would be dull – lifeless. But here we’re forced to think about all that went into this note-for-note rendition – comparisons have been made to Gus Van Sant’s frame-by-frame/shot-for-shot retake of Psycho.
I guess that’s a logical comparison – the intention might seem similar, but where Van Sant aimed to pay tribute to a film that had meant the most to him, I believe that the Mostly Killing people want to remind you that music is never just notes on paper and hours at the desk practicing. They have so perfectly copied Kind of Blue as to make it very hard to spot the difference.
And you can hear where it doesn’t quite gel – you can hear that there’s a complete absence of the synchronicities at work in the original. There’s some deep swell or emotion that’s stirred with those opening bass notes on Miles’ So What. With Mostly Other’s version of So What there’s a shake-your-head moment of disbelieving – how have they got so close?/why have they? – but it isn’t those same fingers moving in those same spaces. It does not give me that same feeling. But it’s almost imperceptibly close.
So this brings up questions around study and technique, imitation and interpretation – originality, technique…
Maybe you’d never hear the difference between the two – and certainly it’s tough. But I believe that Mostly Other People Doing The Killing want you to go back to Kind of Blue. And not so you can Bruce Forsyth them with a didn’t they do well! They want you to go back to Kind of Blue to hear the truth. This is their way of telling you where the truth lies. And to go (back) there…
You could drive yourself crazy trying to spot the wee moments that don’t quite tell the story the same way. You could also marvel that for all the skill of Peter Evans as Miles Davis here – the same gorgeous muting across All Blues, that strident burst of announcement on So What – and of drummer Kevin Shea doing Jimmy Cobb and bassist Moppa Elliott as Paul Chambers the really remarkable players are those doing double-duty. Ron Stabinsky has to replicate both Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans on piano – even more impressively, the group’s saxophonist Jon Irabagon does both tenor and alto, both Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley.
But look closely as you listen – peer into this Kind of Blue, Irabagon is not Coltrane – and he knows this, maybe a little better than you do. His transcribed versions of Coltrane’s parts can’t tell the whole story, even if they sell if – momentarily.
Perhaps you don’t have the time to spend with this album, or perhaps it’s more appealing to ponder this group performing a classic of jazz live on the back of this release – you finally get to hear the album live. But Mostly Other People Do The Killing has, with Blue, committed an intriguing murder of sorts here, a killing off of worship. The execution, if you’ll pardon the pun, most taxing, mostly undetected even.