Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait & Switch
On an afternoon dominated by rhythm and blues, it was a small but adventurous group that headed for the room known as the Night Club to check out San Francisco bassist Lisa Mezzacappa and her twitchy, angular quartet, Bait & Switch. A few, not knowing what they were getting into, might have even found the band’s name accurate. But for those who could hang with the band’s multiple twists and turns, it was a thoroughly enjoyable thrill ride.
Marked by tense, insistent riffing in odd meters, Bait & Switch draws its inspiration from what Mezzacappa calls the “little moments” in extended stretches of free improvisation — those times when everybody in a band finds themselves on precisely the same wavelength and the clarity shines through. Taking such little moments from recordings by Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and others as her sources, Mezzacappa has blown apart and reconstructed those snippets of sound into full-blown original tunes.
Mezzacappa is one of those bassists who is as much fun to watch as she is to hear. Switching restlessly between bowed and pizzicato playing, she might rock back on her heels or lean in close to her music stand at any moment, sometimes plucking forcefully at the strings as if to flick off something nasty, at other times melodic and introspective. Her solo lines roam hither and yon, like a housefly buzzing around a room: hovering, meandering, or banging against the window trying to get out.
The band’s other main voice belongs to tenor saxophonist Aaron Bennett, whose agitated skronk quivers and shakes as if about to implode, or turns huge and open, brushing the outer edges of tone. When he gets truly heated up, his body twists in uncomfortable directions and his own gulping breaths become a part of the music, marking the time with an odd, hiccuping sound. John Finkbeiner offers a sort of wry commentary on guitar, with fractured half-grooves like miniature cubist paintings, while drummer Vijay Anderson chugs away like a runaway train, quick-paced and unswerving. Time and again Anderson would fall into a riff and worry it down to a nub, then toss it aside in the blink of an eye in favor of some new variation.
They may have been out of sync with the rest of the Festival on this day, but Bait & Switch’s little moments provided an intriguing afternoon shake-up.