Lisa Mezzacappa-avantNOIR: Album Review

On AvantNOIR, Lisa Mezzacappa showcases a knack for achieving a great overall ensemble sound in an aesthetic that strikes a balance between noisy avant-garde jazz and more straight-ahead materials.  Beginning with a quirky three-minute tune, diving into some ambient realms in the middle, and ending with a floating, back-beat jolt, this album truly offers seven contrasting tunes, yet there’s a moody quality that connects each number.  Mezzacappa has been around the bay-area jazz scene for quite some time now, but this is my personal introduction to her music and it’s clear that she will become a staple of my jazz listening for years to come.

After giving a taste of the players on the record with the introductory “Fillmore Street,” Mezzacappa beckons in the tightly syncopated blues sensibilities of “The Ballad of Big Flora” with a brooding bass solo over textural electronics and samples.  By leaving a great deal of space between phrases in the middle of the track, Mezzacappa opens up a lot of room for drummer Jordan Glenn and electrician Tim Perkis to trade ideas.

“Army Street” offers another quick tune not unlike the first before the hefty “Medley on the Big Knockover” offers many interlocking sections over the course of ten minutes.  First, we hear a pressing rock groove with some pounding drums and disorienting, screeching-tire sound effects.  Later, we get free-metered space with sparse ideas from each member of the ensemble, before a frantic swing feel with exquisitely broken ride patterns from Glenn.

This track does feature my main reservation on the record, which is the sarcastic dive into a twangy country sound with up-beat accompaniment.  Between this and the sound effects, there’s certainly an element of humor on this track, but the country idea didn’t go over so well for me.  It’s clear that the first half of the record offers a great deal of different sounds, without losing accessibility; there’s a constant melodic focus that primes the listener for later experimental ploys.

The second half of the record distills melodic activity with a great deal of open-ended space.  “Bird in the Hand” comes first with some really well-integrated vocal samples from a movie.  It doesn’t feel like Mezzacappa is forcing anything here as the tune is sort of haunting and empty, with the samples operating as blips on the radar.  Even at the end, with more action in the film sampling, the ensemble remains floating and detached.  It’s great to here sonic work like this on a jazz record.

“Quinn’s Serenade” then offers a somewhat stark, yet gradual change of pace.  The tune kind of fades in around the same tempo of the last track, but as Bennett’s solo grows, the group fades into one of their angular melodies.  This sheds light on Mezzacappa’s over-arching planning on the record.  It’s a really cohesive listen, where each composition sensibly transitions into the next.

Although the record values ensemble sound over individuals as a whole, Aaron Bennett and John Finkbeiner provide standout performances.  When Bennett takes over the spotlight, he’s able to really unleash emotion with this really raw and unhinged saxophone persona.  Finkbeiner, on the other hand, is the character behind the operation with his off-kilter guitar tone.

AvantNOIR really strikes all the markers of a great album.  Each track brings something to the table alone, but their full impact is contingent on the rest of the work.  Also, the ensemble sound balances risk and tradition quite well in a collectively driven setting.  I wouldn’t say it’s a work that totally transcends time and genre and there’s a handful of choices I didn’t love, but it will certainly appeal to jazz fans all over the place and it proves that Lisa Mezzacappa is a compositional force to be reckoned with.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

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2016 Review: Top 20 List (11-20)

11. Angel Olsen-My Woman

A masterful rock album about keeping hold of yourself through struggles with relationships.

Further Reading

12. David Bowie-Blackstar

 Bowie’s final number.

Further Reading

13. The Range-Potential

A sample-based wonder that perfectly captures the anxiety of youth.

Further Reading

14. Steve Lehman-Selebeyone

A jazz/hip-hop album that balances both idioms effortlessly.

Further Reading

15. Mary Halvorson-Away With You

Halvorson’s chamber jazz compositional talents on full display to contrast last year’s solo effort.

Further Reading

16. Xarah Dion-Fugitive

Xarah Dion turns up the heat with heavy, punchy tunes.

17. Bobby Kapp and Matthew Shipp-Cactus

Masters of jazz duet in a place deeply rooted in jazz but void of limits.

Further Reading

18. A Tribe Called Red-We Are the Halluci Nation

Tribe Called Red return with their best songwriting effort to date.

Further Reading

19. A Tribe Called Quest-We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

Tribe Called Quest honor Phife Dawg and remind us how important their sound is to the contemporary music ethos.

Further Reading

20. Tim Darcy and AJ Cornell-Too Significant to Ignore

Tim Darcy’s ought lyricism gets displaced in a sonic vacuum supplied by sound artist AJ Cornell.

Further Reading

Nothing New to Say Tonight

been busy trying to cover as much of Suoni Per Il Popolo as possible this week

Tonight, my concert of choice was Tim Darcy and AJ Cornell delivering their entire album “Too Significant To Ignore” and it was something of an experience for me.  I feel like I have a lot of bias because both of these musicians are former employees of the radio station I volunteer at, but the event solidified the album as one of my favorites of the year.  I really loved every minute of it.  I knew every lyric.  It’s something I’ve listened to a tun this year and I really know I’m not going to be forgetting about it anytime soon.

Darcy’s lyricism is complex and abstract leaving the listener at something of a distance, but with each listen I feel like I pull back some of his layers gaining more insight into his messages.  One of the things I noticed was the clothing choices of him and Cornell.  Darcy was dressed entirely in white with Cornell dawning a glittery top. I think this alludes to some of the differences between each of their contributions to the soundscape.  Darcy somewhat digs himself into an emotionless hole bringing an element of tension to the songs as he plays with mundane, everyday actions.  When Cornell is left alone to create drone tunes they have a pleasant air to them.  Her slow moving melodies are simply writhe with beauty.  These contrasting contributions were represented visually by the clothing choices.

Anyways I’m going to be reviewing this show more extensively in my article of festival highlights re-read the review I wrote of the album the week it came out if you’re intrigued.

“We’ve always known Tim Darcy had a way with words.  Last year he stunned us with the line “I’m no longer afraid to die cause that is all that I have left” from the song “Beautiful Blue Sky” on Ought’s Sun Coming Down.  The band’s first album More than Any Other Dayalso had its brilliant lyrical moments; “today, more than any other day, I am prepared to make a decision between 2% and whole milk” said Darcy in a particularly ironic discussion of his grocery shopping.  With the help of electronic musician AJ Cornell, Darcy’s lyrical talent and vocal delivery have been put in a vacuum.  Gone are the erratic rhythms and bass lines he’s usually featured beside.  Gone is Darcy’s guitar centered songwriting style and vocal hooks.  Replacing the usual Ought set-up is AJ Cornell’s eerie avant-garde electronic backdrop, which has brought a whole new personality out of Darcy resulting in the album Too Significant To Ignore.”

you can re-read the rest of my review here

Also I’ll get back to posting a bunch probably once Friday hits.

look out for quick 100 for Kweku Collins, The Range, and T-Rexstasy