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Lisa Mezzacappa’s Glorious Ravage

Posted on September 29, 2015

Lisa Mezzacappa describes herself as “the hub of a wheel, with spokes going off in all directions.” This is in reference to her researching subject matter, collaborating with video artists, writing lyrics and music and rehearsing a 15 piece ensemble for her latest interdisciplinary project: Glorious Ravage. She could just as easily be describing her place in the Bay Area’s creative jazz scene, connecting musicians to each other and to audiences through her work as a bandleader and concert presenter. In addition to leading and co-leading several groups combining the best local and international musicians, she founded the “Monday Makeout,” a monthly series presenting progressive jazz and improvised music at the Make Out Room in the Mission, and Best Coast Jazz Composers Series at the Center for New Music, meant to spotlight the Bay Area’s most creative and prolific jazz artists.

Glorious Ravage is a song cycle with moving images drawing from the writings of women explorers from the Victorian era, and is in many ways a culmination of all the work Mezzacappa has done until now. It premiered at the Angel City Jazz Festival in LA on September 26th, with Fay Victor singing and the incredible cast of musicians, all accompanying fourteen videos by four moving image artists could represent a pinnacle that Mezzacappa has been wanting to reach.

Fay Victor is a powerhouse with a clear, precise and cutting voice, and the dynamic and textural range of any master instrumentalist. Mezzacappa describes an instant chemistry with Victor, who can easily match Mezzacappa’s wide-ranging, groovy, and sometimes frenetic, turn-on-a-dime aesthetic.

The desire to write music for Victor planted a seed that began as a trio premiered in 2012, and grew into Glorious Ravage. Inspired by Victor’s journey westward from New York to play with her in San Francisco, Mezzacappa began researching women pioneers and explorers, eventually using their accounts as source material for lyrics. The rest of the ensemble includes Myra Melford (piano), Mark Dresser (contrabass), Nicole Mitchell (flute), Vinny Golia (winds), Michael Dessen (trombone), Darren Johnston (trumpet), Kyle Bruckmann (oboe), Cory Wright (reeds), Dina Maccabee (viola), Kjell Nordeson (percussion), Jordan Glenn (drums), John Finkbeiner (electric guitar), Tim Perkis (electronics), and Lisa Mezzacappa (contrabass); represent a heavy-hitting cross section of Mezzacappa’s past musical collaborations.

Mezzacappa’s ensemble writing relies heavily on the unique voices of the musicians, providing space and freedom for each to express themselves, all the while providing enough structure to maintain a narrative in the music, or keep synced with a projected video. The compositional techniques she has developed over the years will be thoroughly tested with this group, which is the largest she has yet written for.

Over the course of the last year, Mezzacappa has “co-evolved,” as she put it, the videos that will accompany her songs with four moving picture artists. Though the artists were given open-ended assignments and artistic freedom, Mezzacappa, ever the hub, has kept them and her music connected by exchanging excerpts recorded from rehearsal and song lyrics for video clips and still images as the material developed. All together, the music and the videos will delightfully portray Mezzacappa’s survey of Victorian era women explorers, who were both literal and figurative pioneers: a fitting subject matter for an artist creating incredible work so far off the beaten path.

Lisa Mezzacappa’s Glorious Ravage will appear at the Brava Theater, 2781 24th St., San Francisco, on Thursday October 1, and Friday October 2 at 8pm. Tickets are available at brava.org or in person beginning one hour before showtime at the Brava box office.

This article will appear in the October edition of SFSounds, edited by Chris Weir.