Two Lisa Mezzacappas Shake Up LA
Lisa Mezzacappa led two concerts in Los Angeles in December, one imbued with a musical smile and one with the ferocity of a howling, avant-garde battleground. Her smile was easy to love; the avant-garde battle required a little more effort. Amazingly, the same jazz movement inspired both gigs, proving it can still amuse and unsettle audiences some 45 years after it was born.
A San Francisco Bay-area bassist, Mezzacappa led the first show at Cafe Metropol on December 5 with her sax-guitar-bass-drums quartet, Bait & Switch. Her tunes were quirky, and the musicians' solos were eclectic, ranging from playful skirmishes to brawny, throaty romps.
Mezzacappa might launch into a blistering bass solo while Aaron Bennett melted into languid, lounge-like lines on tenor. Or a free-jazz mania would erupt and stop on a dime for the band to pluck at a childlike tune. When electric guitarist John Finkbeiner went on cerebral excursions, drummer Vijay Anderson might switch gears from minimalist tapping to hard swing. In more serious moments, Mezzacappa would carry us away with deep, undersea bowing. Between solos, composed segues fended off applause and created an air of jazz-meets-modern-music without ever sounding stuffy. Variety was the key. Here, Mezzacappa was drawing on an avant-garde movement that came out of groups like the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and the loft jazz scene of the 1970s, where free jazz and performance art stressed qualities of sound over traditional rhythm, melody and harmony.
On December 5, Mezzacappa contained that wildness within the confines of her compositions. The next night at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, she really let loose. Jeremy Drake gave the audience fair warning when he opened the evening on electro-acoustic guitar. Perched over his instrument and various electronic devices, he simulated a series of industrial clinks, thuds and bells. A buzz from his speaker built up to an ear-piercing whineenhanced by the arts center's live acousticwhich Drake held, and held, and eventually let subside into a soothing purr. Everyone seemed to exhale: we had been baptized in the clamor of harsh modern machinery.
Now it was Mezzacappa's turn to rock the house. Teaming up with Vinny Golia on woodwinds, Charles Sharp on saxophones and Anthony Shadduck on bassall Southern CaliforniansBait & Switch became the Grapevine Project, joining musicians north and south. And with homemade tunes like "Scared Men Who Would Rather Be Somewhere Else" and "Ballad of the Anxious Tapir Hogs," they were set to unleash the wilder side of the AACM/loft jazz movement.
Grounded by Anderson on drumsoften with a driving jungle beatthe horn players squeaked, honked, bellowed and filled the room with mournful cries. Slow, searching clarinet solos by Golia erupted into sudden blizzards of notes. Creepy crawly spider sounds skittered across bass strings. The guitar and basses soloed in quieter momentsthe compositions were carefully structuredbut mostly an unabashed love of liberty shook the walls and rattled the roof.
A top-notch bassist, Mezzacappa surrounded herself with good musicians all weekend. Whether one heard a witty, subtle composer or a daring avant-garde/free jazz maverick depended on the day. In the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts' sensitive acoustic, Mezzacappa's wild side sounded a little harsh. Maybe it would have overwhelmed anywhere; the line between cacophony and art was sometimes difficult to draw. But at Cafe Metropol, her musical smile was easy to love.
Photo by Scott Chernis