Wednesday, February 25, 2015

At least they didn't call it "Kind of Kind of Blue"

Until just a few months ago, I’d never heard of Mostly Other People Do The Killing. As of right now, still the only thing I know about them is they recorded an exact copy of Miles Davis’s album, Kind of Blue.

If you don’t know anything about Kind of Blue, Google it now and come back when you are finished.

The cover of one of the most iconic jazz recordings of all time. No exaggeration to say it changed not just jazz, not just music, but changed the way people thought about making and listening to music.
So, why would a band want to make a copy of an album, note-for-note, second-for-second? You can Google MOPDTK and Blue and come back, if you want, but I don’t think you will find the answer in any of the interviews and articles that have been written about this “controversial” and “audacious” musical work.
Similarly, hard not to mistake this cover for something else, either, although a friend from school did have something remarkably similar for his Facebook cover photo for a while.
Of course, this didn't stop me from buying, listening to, and weighing in on the album on Amazon. Here’s what I wrote: 
Compelling in so many ways 
After first reading about this remake of the great Miles Davis album in the Wall Street Journal, I was partly scared and partly excited to hear what MOPDTK could do with the music from the album. There were just so many questions I had. Would it be indistinguishable from the original? Would it be nothing at all like the original? Would I even be able to listen to it? And, most importantly, why in the heck would a band go through all that trouble to make a note-for-note copy of the greatest jazz album of all time? The mind boggled. 
Then, maybe a month later and still before I’d gotten around to purchasing the recording, there was another article in the Wall Street Journal, this time calling the recording “controversial” and “audacious”. Really? I mean, yes, I’m still confused by the intent and purpose and the artistic value of the project, but does that make it a “controversy”? There was nothing to do but buy the thing and sit down and listen to it.
And all I can say is, this is, no matter how you cut it, an amazing piece of music, an amazing work of musicianship, and I am utterly in awe of the people who conceived and executed this work. And I must also admit that I am struggling to put into words what I thought about the whole thing. It is, first and foremost, a faithful, note for note, second for second, copy of the original album. The playing is clear and precise, and the recording is faithful to the original, in depth, tone, and overall reproduction. It swings, but it swings in a predictable, previously pioneered way. The first few times listening to it, you hear everything you are expecting to hear, so it is very difficult to put your finger on what it is different. But there’s something else there, or rather, something else missing. The “presence” of Mile Davis and Bill Evans and John Coltrane is absent (if that’s even possible). What’s left? Just the music. And the music is as interesting and as attractive and as absorbing as it has always been. The back of my brain kept saying, it’s not real, but the front of my brain kept saying, damn I love this music! I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I suddenly felt like Miles and his band had somehow transcended time and space, but I felt like I owed a debt of gratitude to Moppa Elliott, Jon Irabagon, and the other band members for achieving what is, to me, a nearly impossible feat. As a student of music, I’ve more than a few times been required to transcribe a piece of music as part of my study, and I can think of no more odious and difficult task. That multiple members of a band would spend ten years or so transcribing in meticulous detail an entire album is, as I’ve said already, mind boggling. That they achieved it at all is stunning. That they achieved it with such clarity and accuracy and musicality is nothing short of a miracle.
Purists will doubt the intent and the result of this album, probably for ever. Arguments for and against the pretext are likely to continue. Miles fans may have their hackles raised and it is obvious that not all jazz fans will appreciate this work. Regrettably, I feel a lot of people just won’t “get it”. Personally, I don’t think there is anything to “get”. This is a tremendous work, a monumental musical achievement, and its very existence hails the value of the original, heightens the enjoyment of both versions, and makes the brain work overtime in its euphoria and enjoyment. It may not be the single most compelling musical work ever recorded, but it’s worth as many stars as anyone will let you give, which in Amazon’s case is 5.
There’s more to this story, but I need some time to think about it. I am going to get to the bottom of this, one way or another.