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Album Art, Mostly By Other People

One wonders what Sonny Rollins would think of the inflatable cactus. Hot Cup Records hide caption

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Hot Cup Records

One wonders what Sonny Rollins would think of the inflatable cactus.

Hot Cup Records

Last week, I noticed the striking album art you see here, to your left, circulating around the Web. I noticed that it promised the talented young saxophonist Jon Irabagon, with underrated and underrecorded drummer Barry Altschul. I noticed the scantily-clad young woman on the cover — how could one not? But most of all, I noticed that it was a take-off on the iconic cover to the Sonny Rollins album Way Out West.

Jon Irabagon's upcoming Foxy will be issued on Hot Cup Records. The independent label is managed by bassist Moppa Elliott, of the band Mostly Other People Do The Killing. The band, featuring Irabagon, trumpeter Peter Evans and drummer Kevin Shea, has become known both for its technical brilliance and its often humorous, convention-inverting takes on both jazz standards and Elliott originals, a la Willem Breuker or Lester Bowie. Its MySpace page promises "100 Years of Jazz History in Every Byte!!!" — to these ears, it works because the band is too sincere, and sincerely good, to deny.

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Mostly Other People Do The Killing has issued four albums on Hot Cup. Three of the four also feature cover art that play on covers of classic jazz albums from Art Blakey, Roy Haynes and Ornette Coleman. Being the editor of something called A Blog Supreme, I was attracted to the visual combination of the reverential and the ridiculous. So I contacted Elliott to ask him: Why? With edits for punctuation, here's what he wrote back:

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The signifiers in the pictures are very similar to the musical ones. When we play, we reference all sorts of historical material constantly (everybody does, even if they don't acknowledge it), and the album covers reflect the same relationship to the past. We are "transcribing" the album covers just like we transcribe solos. It is interesting to think about what an "iconic image" is, and our music lends itself to not the creation of iconic images, but the re-interpretation and re-creation of them.
It is also pretty funny. We revere the classics. We parody the classics. We examine the classics. We obsess over the classics. We study the classics. We ignore the classics. We re-create the classics. We fail to re-create the classics. We become the classics?

And for your reference, below are the covers to the three most recent MOPDTK albums Forty Fort, This Is Our Moosic and Shamokin!!!.

The cover art for Forty Fort is based on that of Roy Haynes' Out Of The Afternoon. Hot Cup Records hide caption

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Hot Cup Records

The cover art for Forty Fort is based on that of Roy Haynes' Out Of The Afternoon.

Hot Cup Records

The cover art for This Is Our Moosic is based on that of Ornette Coleman's This Is Our Music. Hot Cup Records hide caption

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Hot Cup Records

The cover art for Shamokin!!! is based on that of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers' A Night In Tunisia. Hot Cup Records hide caption

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Hot Cup Records