Wiley and the Checkmates
We Call It Soul

[Rabbit Factory, www.therabbitfactory.net]

Mostly Other People do the Killing
This is Our Moosic

[Hot Cup, www.hotcuprecords.com]

The artistic directors at Rabbit Factory and Hot Cup must have been talking to each other - either that or communicating telepathically. Both albums featured in this review have cover artwork that is a straight rip-off from Ornette Coleman's 1960 classic album "This is Our Music". With that hefty criticism out of the way, truth must be told that these are two very solid releases. This is not music that is perhaps popular or at the forefront of most peoples' minds in the popular culture, but then again, we're not interested in what's hot and happening, are we? All we care about is music that is true to itself and both of these records prove themselves worthy to be mentioned in that category.

History of Wiley and the Checkmates is a long and twisted one. Vocalist and percussionist, Herbert Wiley formed the Checkmates in Oxford, Mississippi back in 1960. Through hard work and frequent live shows, they gained some notoriety around Memphis and in North Mississippi bars. By the 70's, the band was touring around Southeast and playing as back-ups form guitarist Sam Mosely and organ player Bobby Johnson. They even played as the back-up band for guitarist-legend Gatemouth Brown. What's more is Percy Sledge hired them to accompany him on a tour. While in Chicago, the band even played with Otis Clay and Syl Johnson. Around the mid 70's, the band members decided to go their separate ways. Then, in 2002 Herbert Wiley got an offer to reform the Checkmates, which he gladly accepted. The band was put together from musicians that came for a variety of backgrounds. Not only gospel musicians were included but ones that had a background in jazz and rock. Majority of the numbers featured on "We Call It Soul" are originals penned by guitarist/synth player/percussionist J.D. Mark as well as some by the leader. These are songs of heartbreak ["I Want Your Love in My Life"], admission of guilt ["All-the-way Wrong"] passion ["Tryin' to get Next to You"] to consolation ["Have You Been Crying?"]. Wiley's vocals are impassioned, weary and full of zest. But he's not alone. Along with Tricanna McGee's full-blast vocals that accompany the leader, there is an entire choral section in the wings that throws the oomph into the mix. An addition of the horn section along with a sturdy rhythm section add particular blues feel to the album. These songs are full-bodies, brimming with passion, rhythm and blues but most of all life. They call it soul. You can call Wiley and the Checkmates' brand of fiery music whatever you wish.

Thirty-year-old bassist Moppa Elliott was brought up in a household where music was revered. Both of his parents were college instructors and each instilled a general love for all music. "This is Our Moosic" [play on words on a small town in Pennsylvania] is the third album from his quartet Mostly Other People Do The Killing. Featuring the leader on bass, trumpet player Peter Evans, percussionist Kevin Shea and saxophonist Jon Irabagon, the band follows a straight path of jazz-fused concoctions. Influences are obvious and come from Ornette Coleman and a large chunk of free-jazz musicians of the 60's. Elliott also says his ideas for group performance come from John Cage and Derek Bailey. Regardless, this is music that is as brash as it is fuelled by melodies and group ideas. Though the pieces tend to be composed, just about every track features excitement of improvised conversation happening on the spot. Evans' trumpet blasts are quick witted and well timed, while Irabagon's sax attacks coincide well with the ones Evans in presenting. In fact, one can actually hear echoes of Coleman's early 60's trajectories being fed through in these songs. Elliott drives the rhythm section, which is finely supplemented by Shea's quick-action on the drums. I love experiencing band interaction that is confrontational, but never mean-mannered. "This is Our Moosic" features jazz that is brazen and full of what some refer to as huevos.

- Tom Sekowski

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