Lisa Mezzacappa & Nightshade

Cosmic Rift
Leo Records CD LR 613

By Ken Waxman

A profound sense of balance characterizes Cosmic Rift by Lisa Mezzacappa’s Nightshade quintet. The Staten Island-raised bassist, who has been a key instigator in the percolating Bay Area scene for the last decade, has produced a CD that’s richly textured and almost visual in its timbre stretching. That’s not surprising, considering Mezzacappa’s interest in musically interpreting paintings and film, often as they’re being created.

“Alvamel's Dream” is the most obvious instance of this, since the piece is the evocative soundtrack for Alfonso Alvarez’s film. Unforced but powerful, Mezzacappa stops and slides her strings beneath the moderato melody elaborated by clarinetist Cory Wright, with layered sequences of intermittent echoes from Kjell Nordeson’s vibraphone, slurred fingering from guitarist John Finkbeiner plus sudden corkscrew flanges from Tim Perkis’ electronics all coming into play.

Balance is paramount as well among the musicians’ contributions. The reed stylings of Wright, who has worked with Anthony Braxton, range from surging to split tones, while Swedish percussionist Nordeson, who is in bands like Exploding Customer, concentrates mostly on vibes, analytically measuring out his strokes. Finkbeiner, when not supportively comping, creates spots for kinetic and staccato finger patterns, but in the context of one of Nightshade’s few covers, of Frank Zappa’s “The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbeque”. As for Perkins, who has recorded with European and American sound explorers, his wave forms are rarely in the foreground, but more frequently underscoring the others contributions. Then again it’s his interjected flanges and jitters that confirm that the chromatically harmonized bass thumps, vibe slides and guitar plucks on “Delphinus” add up to a lot more than a pleasant George Shearing Quintet-styled mood music.

Mezzacappa’s skill as a composer (four out of seven tunes) and arranger (all) bring cohesion to the entire disc, which is bookended by a prelude and extended version of the stop-time title track, eventually replete with gentling clarinet riffs, twanging theme elaborations from the guitarist and twittering electronic oscillations. A further tribute to her talents is that Nightshade’s version of Messiaen’s “Regard de L’étoile”, with its surging bass clarinet solo it aligns seamlessly with the rest of the original material. At 46 minutes Cosmic Rift is one of the few CDs that leaves the listener wanting more.

Track Listing: Cosmic Rift (Prelude); Delphinus; The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbeque; Regard de L’étoile; Ballet; Alvamel’s Dream; Cosmic Rift

Personnel: Cory Wright: Bb and bass clarinets; John Finkbeiner: electric guitar; Lisa Mezzacappa: bass; Kjell Nordeson: vibraphone, percussion; Tim Perkis: electronics

—For New York City Jazz Record April 2012