Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait & Switch
Better than...trying to play those tunes myself.
Last night, long after many of Little Tokyo's residents had gone to sleep, bassist LIsa Mezzacappa presented her band Bait & Switch to a small but appreciative audience at the Blue Whale. The quartet consisted of the same folks she recorded her award-winning debut with last year: saxophonist Aaron Bennett, guitarist John Finkbeiner and drummer Vijay Anderson.
The band opened with a loping composition that eventually gave way to Bennett's fiery tenor, embodying the switch aspect of the band's name. His breathless jaunts could stop on a dime, often giving way to a more subtle groove before the band devolved into a tempo-less crawl.
The tune that followed, inspired by drumming legend Tony Williams, was also a saxophone feature. With Anderson's cymbal riding alongside Finkbeiner's sputtering guitar, Bennett launched into another jaunt that eventually found him blowing alone, interjecting subtle hard-bop riffs into an otherwise cacophonous assault.
With Mezzacappa and Anderson refraining from any direct solos, all of that work was handled by Finkbeiner and Bennett. Finkbeiner remained the stoic guitarist, summoning fractured phrases from his small axe while Bennett parried with an invisible opponent, fencing his way through Mezzacappa's complicated compositions. There were times when I considered the location of the nearest hospital, should his brain explode in the middle of one of his more breathless passages.
An homage to a South American ant invasion opened and closed with Mezzacappa's otherworldly bowed bass sounds. Her long tones were driven by Finkbeiner's chunky march, before leading to a spidery solo by the axe-man himself.
The only composition not written by Mezzcappa was a performance of an Art Ensemble of Chicago piece that felt old-timey in relation to the rest of the set. The band adopted a laidback strut that included touches of swing and a quieter pulse that was briefly interrupted by another Bennett assault.
The band closed out with a tune that had the subtlest of backbeats and a beautiful bowed bass line supported by the saxophone. A jagged guitar solo led to demure pizzicato riffs from everyone while Anderson's drums clattered like the sound of a thousand fidgety drummers.
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By the time the band had finished, the number of paying attendees had quadrupled and everyone in the room had quiet reverence for Mezzacappa's ability to wield the bass and a pen. Her unimposing stage presence only worked to hide her natural command of the four-stringed beast that she would inevitably have to carry down three flights of stairs at the end of the night.
Personal Bias: I like dinner party music.
The Crowd: Wine sippers.
Random Notebook Dump: Perhaps there would have been a bigger crowd had they not been arrested for occupying buildings down the street.