Sunday, April 26, 2020

CD Review: Lisa Mezzacappa Six - Cosmicomics

Lisa Mezzacappa Six
(Queen Bee)

This isn't the first time bassist Lisa Mezzacappa has found musical inspiration from literature. Her 2017 album avantNOIR was inspired by crime fiction novels, which resulted in some adventurous film noir jazz. The bassist wrote the music for Cosmicomics after immersing herself in the late Italo Calvino's Cosmicomic series. These stories about the origins of universe, and the way humans deal with both big and small ideas and our place within them, offered a situation comparable to the way musicians interact in an improvisational setting. Once again the muse has helped Mezzacappa create some unique pieces that are rich in detail.

With one exception, the Mezzacappa Six features the same musicians as the 2017 album. The bassist has Aaron Bennett (tenor saxophone), John Finkbeiner (guitar), Tim Perkins (electronics), and Jordan Glenn (drums) with her. Mark Clifford plays vibes, an instrument played previously by William Winant. That instrumentation allows the group to bounce from a moody lounge scene (thanks to sustained vibes) to something that gets a little more choppy, which happens out of the gate in "The Soft Moon."

Finkbeiner and Clifford often work together to create the melodic center of a theme while the rest of the group builds a foundation around them. "Crystals" begins with Mezzacappa viciously plucking the bass while Clifford moves parallel to her.  When she moves into a walking line, then things really open up.  Before they conclude - stopping cold, more accurately - Bennett adds a feverish solo of wails and overtones with some interjections from the vibes, until things calm down. For three tracks titled "Signs," Mezzacappa involves the group in conducted improvisations. Two of them build on bowed bass melodies, one with minimal drum commentary, the other with the group reacting to her overtones. Glenn and Clifford get most of the space in "Signs III" - the vibist reprising a three-note line from "Signs I" which recalls Black Sabbath's title tune - before everyone joins the short conversation.

With a strong source of material and imaginative players, there is only one set back on Cosmiccomics - Perkins' electronics. In "Sun Moon" it adds a free percussive quality, almost like an arhytmical guitar. In the final "Blood, Sea" he creates some whirring over the rubato opening which feels like the band is ready for a dramatic lift-off.  But during other tracks, Perkins generates sounds that feel kind of similar to one another, chattering noises like angry birds and distract from the fire the rest of the band is creating. The most frustrating one comes in "All At One Point" where a mutant blend of R2D2 and Moog-style bloops start to get in the way. It's not that they spoil the music but the limited sound elements distract from, rather than elevate, moments like this.

Nevertheless, the group cooks. Other things to listen for are the ways the rhythm section takes a simple melodic structure and twists it over shifting tempos, while Finkbeiner, Clifford or Bennett tear it up on top. Like a good story, a lot happens here so it's best to dig in and get to know these.. characters.

Incidentally, Mezzacappa is currently active in trying to help musicians and performance spaces in the Bay Area, which have fallen on hard times due to the pandemic. In adddition to checking out her music, check out her Facebook page or things like this that are trying to help the Center for New Music.

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