Since relocating to San Francisco ten years ago, Staten Island-born bassist Lisa Mezzacappa has established herself as a commanding presence in the vibrant West Coast scene. Mezzacappa's pliant bass lines have provided a stalwart foundation for some of the Bay Area's most dynamic projects, ranging from the visceral excursions of her riotous garage jazz band Bait & Switch to her collaborative efforts in the bold collective quartet Cylinder. Cosmic Rift, the debut of Mezzacappa's neo-classical quintet Nightshade, showcases a more restrained side of her artistry, reveling in the moody ambience implied by the ensemble's name.
The electro-acoustic lineup includes clarinetist Cory Wright, guitarist John Finkbeiner, vibraphonist/percussionist Kjell Nordeson, and electronics manipulator Tim Perkis, whose subtle contributions imbue the band's chamber music-like instrumentation with kaleidoscopic color. The group's genesis can be traced to 2009, when Mezzacappa was invited by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco to develop new pieces inspired by the work of visual artists Yehudit Sasportas and Edgar Arceneaux. Mezzacappa's atmospheric originals and stately arrangements of unorthodox covers evoke the cinematic air of the artists' implied visual narratives, as illustrated by the album jacket, which features Sasportas' abstract chiaroscuro ink drawing Cosmic Rift No.38.
Mezzacappa's interpretive prowess is revealed in tasteful adaptations of Frank Zappa's eccentric ode "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbeque" and Oliver Messiaen's majestic "Regard de L'etoile." She streamlines the former composition's mercurial vacillations into an ascending drama dominated by brooding bass clarinet ruminations and Finkbeiner's scorching fretworkwhile preserving the original's reverent tone. The latter piece is underscored by hypnotic vibraphone motifs and otherworldly electronic samples, emulating the renowned French composer's spiritualism. Mezzecappa's own writing is similarly intriguing. The melancholy "Delphinus," based on the Greek myth, ebbs towards peaceful resolution with placid, glassy lines, whereas the surreal "Alvamel's Dream" capriciously alternates between peaceful tranquility and nightmarish interludes. Wright's sole contribution, "Ballet," unveils coarse, sinewy textures orbiting a dulcet ostinato, punctuated by brash interjections. The session is stylishly bookended by variations on "The Cosmic Rift;" their chaotic pointillism encapsulates the album's many moods while providing stylistic consistency to the date.
Nightshade's impressionistic excursions are emboldened by a multihued palette of coruscating highlights, shadowy transitions and intricate line work. Avoiding routine formal constraints in favor of idiosyncratic narratives and collective interplay, Cosmic Rift paints a striking portrait of Mezzacappa's versatility as a bandleader, composer and improviser.
Cosmic Rift (prelude); Delphinus; The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbeque; Regard de L'etoile; Ballet; Alvamel's Dream; Cosmic Rift.
Lisa Mezzacappa: acoustic bass; Cory Wright: Bb and bass clarinets; John Finkbeiner: electric guitar; Tim Perkis: electronics; Kjell Nordeson: vibraphone, percussion.
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