Getting around with Cylinder and Lisa Mezzacappa

Cylinder, a “rambunctious collective quartet,” plays Saturday in Berkeley

There’s simply no point playing Six Degrees of Lisa Mezzacappa. A prolific performer who collaborates with a vast array of filmmakers, poets and fellow musicians, the San Francisco jazz bassist is probably no more than three steps from just about any contemporary American artist who comes to mind.

More than a mover and shaker, Mezzacappa is an essential catalyst with an international web of musical connections who is always on the lookout for opportunities for creative cross pollination.

After a fairly subdued summer, she kicks into her usual frenetic mode in September, including several exciting gigs in the East Bay.

On Saturday, she performs with Cylinder at the Subterranean Art House. Anchored by her thick, imposing tone and reactive lines, Cylinder is a rambunctious collective quartet featuring trumpeter Darren Johnston, alto saxophonist Aram Shelton, and drummer Kjell Nordeson, who are all prodigious improvisers. The ensemble corrals “a lot of strong personalities,” Mezzacappa says. “We all bring in our own compositions, mostly stuff we’ve written for each other.”


Billed as Cylinder and Friends, the evening features several special guests, including guitarist John Finkbeiner and saxophonist Aaron Bennett (who also make up half of Mezzacappa’s acclaimed quartet, Bait & Switch), and Brooklyn guitarist Chris Welcome. New York bassist Shayna Dulberger makes her Bay Area debut with a solo set, then joins the extended Cylinder crew in variously shaped configurations.

Much like Mezzacappa, Dulberger inhabits jazz’s left field, working regularly with avant-garde giants like multi-instrumentalist Bill Cole, bassist William Parker, and saxophonist Ras Moshe. Her latest album, “The Basement Recordings,” documents a very different side of the bassist. A solo session built out of slippery loops, the music is sensuous and meditative without becoming lulling.

Impressed by the company Dulberger was keeping, Mezzacappa made a point of meeting her fellow bassist. “I had my eye on her for a while, and I kept seeing her name popping up in interesting places,” Mezzacappa says. “I saw she was playing with a lot of older generation, free jazz players. I fell in with her and we became friends. I love her work as a sideperson. She’s not clichéd at all. She brings a real thoughtfulness to that tradition.”

An avid cinephile, Mezzacappa created and oversees the Mission Eye & Ear series, which brings together Bay Area filmmakers, writers, composers and musicians to create film events with live scores. She and Darren Johnston co-produce The Monday Makeout, a monthly series at the Makeout Room in the Mission. It’s hardly surprising that she and Dulberger would bond. They’re both drawn to multi-media situations where music doesn’t necessarily inhabit the foreground.

“Neither of us realized it about the other until we started having a conversation, and Shayna had just started working with dancers and video artists,” Mezzacappa says. “Maybe it’s because the bass is such a collaborating instrument. Being in the background, you reach out and want to be part something.”


Mezzacappa returns to Berkeley on Tuesday for a gig at Caffe Trieste with one of her more recent projects, Les Gwan Jupons, which she co-leads with John Finkbeiner. Initially inspired by recordings from Martinique and Guadeloupe from the 1930s and 40s, the ensemble brings music from the Caribbean into a jazz setting. The band often performs as a trio, but at Trieste the full quintet will be on hand, including Cory Wright on clarinet, trombonist Rob Ewing, and drummer John Hanes.

“We love Caribbean music, especially the sound of the French Caribbean,” Mezzacappa says. “After we started to transcribe these recordings from Martinique we wondered what would this sound like with our people. We also play a lot of tunes from Guadeloupe, calypso from Trinidad, cumbia from Colombia, and we’ve been adding music from the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. It’s dance music, social music and party music.”

Andrew Gilbert, whose Berkeleyside music column appears every Thursday, also covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and KQED’s California Report. He lives in west Berkeley. 

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