Tag Archives: Lisa Mezzacappa

JazzGram review by Alain Drouot

Cylinder is a quartet of San Francisco Bay Area expatriates, which includes, besides Shelton, a Canadian trumpeter, Darren Johnson, a bass player from Staten Island, Lisa Mezzacappa, and a drummer from Norway, Kjell Nordeson, who was a member of School Days, a defunct group that included Chicagoans Ken Vandermark and Jeb Bishop. Cylinder is a truly collective effort with every band member contributing compositions. As a result, their debut recording provides a wide variety of circumstances and forms. Johnston’s “The Ear That Was Sold to a Fish” or Mezzacappa’s “The Deep Disciplines” have also an Ornette Coleman feel. The alto sax/trumpet front line is definitely one factor, but the main idea is to have every musician play melodically. On the other hand, Nordeson’s personal sound cannot be mistaken for neither Billy Higgins’ nor Ed Blackwell’s. Whether the quartet delves into a dirge, ruminations, or collages, it strikes a nice balance between unisons and counterpoints, between abstraction and grooves, the whole experience being complemented by a broad sonic palette–in addition to the alto sax, Shelton plays the Bb and bass clarinets. And when jazz is foremost known for using melodies as a springboard for improvisation, these four musicians can also start from an impromptu situation to slowly and cleverly build a structure, which testifies to the level of communication they operate at.

Ni Kantu review by Clifford Allen

ARRIVE – There Was (CF 217)
CYLINDER – Cylinder (CF 219)
Composer-reedman Aram Shelton is a very unassuming character, which is partly why his trajectory is so interesting to watch. Based in Oakland, California for the past several years while studying at Mills College, he’s still found time to maintain his Chicago roots, playing with cooperative ensembles like Fast Citizens and Rolldown as well as various West Coast aggregations. As an improviser, he’s probably one of the most consistently exciting altoists on the contemporary scene, having studied intently the music of historic messengers like Jackie McLean, Gary Bartz, Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Braxton and wrapping it all into his own conception. Two recent discs on the Clean Feed label put an excellent spotlight on some of Shelton’s activities – namely, the quartets Arrive (which began in Chicago) and the decidedly Bay Area band Cylinder.

Arrive features fellow Rolldown members Jason Adasiewicz (vibes) and Jason Roebke (bass) along with drummer Tim Daisy, and There Was is their second disc to date. The opening title piece gradually shifts from spare tonal exploration to sharp alto pirouettes atop a taut, active thrum, Roebke’s fistfuls making this groove edgily pliant and brightly accented. The vibist’s solo shows just how much he’s progressed over the last few years, bright pools and fragmentary sub-tunes making themselves clear in one of the most strikingly (no pun intended) individual statements on the instrument in recent memory. “Frosted” exhibits a shredded view of a nocturnal half-ballad as Shelton takes a caressing tone and eviscerates it with gutsy near squall, at other times making coagulated blues. Adasciewicz matches delicacy with crisp, snaking movement in a mirror to the saxophonist’s devilish turns before Daisy inflects the tune with calypso-like rhythms. From the lilting melody of “Lost,” it’s a quick transition into Roebke’s woody muscle, using hands, bow and forearms to craft tensile opposition. Reprising the theme, its resonance is catchy and Shelton’s blistering statements rekindle the fiery gobs of AACM sound as much as they do an aggressively-tinged hardbop push. He’s clearly a player who knows two divergent traditions well, but his own work as an instrumentalist-composer is to find ways to bring them together.

Cylinder is the cooperative quartet of Shelton, trumpeter Darren Johnston, bassist Lisa Mezzacappa and drummer Kjell Nordeson (who splits his time between California and Stockholm). The trumpeter composed the opening “The Ear That Was Sold to a Fish,” which recalls the John Carter-Bobby Bradford Quartet in its uneasy funereal unison before splaying out into curling alto, as meaty pizzicato bass and Nordeson’s light rattle build a rhythm environment. “The Deep Disciplines” pits short, darting segments against sawing insistence, alto and trumpet in loose commentary atop a swaying hull and obsessive patter. A drummer who builds his language from small rimshots, highly-tuned taps and deadened thuds, Nordeson is one of the most engaging parts of this quartet, especially as he counters Mezzacappa’s robust and steadfast bass playing. The pair tugs at one another on the brief “Shells,” written by the drummer as a chunky rhythmic exploration that soon steps out of bounds while horns pile on with cutting interplay. Mezzacappa’s closing “Earthworm” is a spacious roil with bass clarinet and drums played off of rude harmonic scrawl in varying degrees of density. Cylinder presents a solid program of piano-less quartet music and, while not all of it is entirely distinctive, the contrasts between the group’s four personalities should make for excellent future results. Both discs are a fine place to introduce oneself to Aram Shelton’s music.

The New York City Jazz Record review Wilbur MacKenzie

Darren Johnston/Aram Shelton/Lisa Mezzacappa/Kjell Nordeson – Cylinder (CF 219)
Cylinder is a collective quartet based in San Francisco, with an ensemble dynamic that echoes Ornette Coleman’s classic quartet without foregoing each individual’s unique voice as an instrumentalist and composer. The four musicians each come from disparate locations in the US and Sweden and each brings to the ensemble an eclectic background of musical vocabularies. The challenge with a record by four leaders who all compose for the band is to create a sound that both represents the distinct characters of the composer/performers, but also puts forth a general consensus of creative direction. Saxophonist/clarinetist Aram Shelton’s history with Chicago inevitably leads a listener to draw comparisons between the Associationfor the Advancement of Creative Musicians and Shelton’s colorful and spacious composition style, with “Four Thoughts” and “Skipped Rocks” both offering an enchanting blend of abstraction, freedom and lyricism. Drummer Kjell Nordeson sounds amazing on the latter and the Swede’s own compositions are beautiful, “Shells” brimming with energy and drive and “Sung By Dogs” mixing melodic intrigue with some great extended techniques from trumpeter Darren Johnston. Johnston’s compositions probably most directly call to mind Ornette Coleman’s unlikely melodic structures, with the themes of “The Ear That Was Sold To a Fish” and “Sink Town” floating over a propulsive rhythm. Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa’s prodigious technique lends the ensemble firm footing and a flexible poise that enables fluidity of motion. Both her arco and pizzicato playing are buoyant, assured and consistently engaging. Her “The Deep Disciplines” sets up a variety of ensemble shapes in the composed sections, with sharp unisons, wobbling trills and driving rhythms all careening up against each other. The variety of compositional structures on display across this disc are impressive and the energy with which the musicians bring these works to life is ear-grabbing. Having each found their way to the Bay Area from disparate locales, they have created a cohesive band with a sense of team work and a love of innovation and tradition, both shared and personal. The band functions so well as a unit because it is made up of individuals enjoying each other’s ideas and discoveries.

Monsieur Délire by François Couture

CYLINDER / Cylinder (CF 219)
Plus créatif, plus pompé, plus intéressant est cet autre quatuor avec Aram Shelton, quatuor qu’il ne dirige pas cette fois. Cylinder est un projet collectif entre Shelton, le trompettiste Darren Johnston, la bassiste Lisa Mezzacappa et le batteur Kjell Nordeson. Les quatre membres composent pour le groupe. Superbes échanges entre trompette et saxo, une section rythmique qui a du cran, une écriture sautillante et qui sait frapper là où ça fait mal (ou du bien, c’est selon). J’aime.

More creative, pumped up and interesting than Arrive is this other quartet featuring Aram Shelton, although he is not the leader this time. Cylinder is a collective project between Shelton, trumpeter Darren Johnston, bassist Lisa Mezzacappa, and drummer Kjell Nordeson. All four compose for the group. Gorgeous exchanges between trumpet and sax, a gutsy rhythm section, and spirited writing that hits where it hurts (and it feels good). I like.

El Intruso interview by Sergio Piccirilli

Check the great Lisa Mezzacappa interview and get to know more about this incredible talent ! http://elintruso.com/2011/05/24/lisa-mezzacappa/

Village Voice’s Jazz Consumers Guide by Tom Hull

Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait & Switch – What Is Known (CF 192)
The leader’s bass brackets the sonic range where Aaron Bennett’s tenor sax and John Finkbeiner’s guitar rumble and roil—deep, dense, with a steady charge and a tendency to get noisy. Two covers: one from Air drummer Steve McCall, the other from Don Van Vliet, a/k/a Captain Beefheart, who knew a thing or two about getting down and dirty. A MINUS

Free Jazz review bu Stef Gissels

Darren Johnston – Cylinder (CF 219)
Ornette Coleman’s musical revolution of the late 50s and early 60s is still alive, and this band is without a doubt its grandchild, with Darren Johnston on trumpet, Aram Shelton on sax and clarinet, Lisa Mezzacappa on bass and Kjell Nordeson on drums. And the reference to Coleman is not only because of the line-up, but primarily because of the music.

The core theme and the improvisations get priority over specific harmonies or fixed rhythms as the foundation of each composition. But they add the modernism, the technical skills and freedom of spirit that you can expect of today’s jazz.

This a true band effort too, with all band members writing two compositions each and Shelton three, but you wouldn’t know when listening, because the overall musical coherence is very strong.

I have listened to this album more than a few dozen times over the past few weeks, and I  keep reaching back to it, not only because I love the sound and the playing, but also because it has this kind of ungraspable quality : it remains totally unpredictable, leading to increasing moments of enjoyment with each listen. Sometimes angular, sometimes sweet, but deconstruction seems to be its main characteristic.

A theme is set, then it is gradually taken apart, stripped of its form while laying bare its true essence, in a trumpet solo without accompaniment, a bass, some violent drumming, a soaring sax, demonstrating the depth of the piece, adding emotions, different shades, sonic explorations and some rhythmics puzzles … with a great sense of adventure but without losing track of the main theme, always coming back to it flawlessly.

The overall result is exceptionally good, not only because of the individual playing but because of the overal feeling of a band that creates something unique. Like the Ornette Coleman quartet, this is freedom in a fixed format, not the long expansive improvisations of the later Coltrane or Ayler, but expressive power without restraints within the confines of concept and structure and time. It reads like a paradox, and well, maybe it is, the characteristic of all great music.

And like Ornette Coleman, the themes themselves are often of a compelling and sweeping beauty.

Not to be missed!