Bits of Noir and the ABCs

Sinister sounds, crime yarns, and uplifting imagery define this month’s picks.


avantNOIR by Lisa Mezzacappa (Clean Feed)

The perfectly apt title of this challenging concept album, by one of the East Bay’s most adventurous composers leading a local sextet, unpacks as “avant-garde jazz meets noir crime fiction.” The experimental suite, anchored by Mezzacappa’s authoritative plucked and bowed acoustic bass, is a musical mélange of squalling saxophones (Aaron Bennett), spiky electric guitar (John Finkbeiner), polyrhythmic drums (Jordan Glenn), and sinister sounds whirling, tiptoeing, and scrambling in the shadows (William Winant on vibraphone, percussion, and live Foley effects; Tim Perkis on electronics). And the inspiration comes from the characters, settings, clues, plot twists, and language of Paul Auster’s 1980s New York Trilogy and Dashiell Hammett’s hard-boiled detective stories, including The Maltese Falcon, of the 1920s. avantNOIR is as scary and fun to listen to as it must have been to make.

—Derk Richardson



Oakland Noir edited by Jerry Thompson & Eddie Muller (Akashic Books, April 2017, 278 pp., $15.95)

This collection of noir short stories starring Oakland neighborhoods (mostly) put together by Alameda’s Eddie Muller, the “Czar of Noir,” and playwright and poet Jerry Thompson of Oakland, begins and ends with a bang. It’s bookended by “The Bridge Tender” by Nick Petrulakis, an Alamedan, and Muller’s “The Handyman,” both riveting reads of fine, dark prose with a healthy dose of noir-esque cynicism, fatalism, and moral mushiness. Part of the Akashic Books series, it features diverse East Bay voices. Joe Joya’s “Waiting for Gordo” on Mexican mobsters is presented as court trial transcripts and is a prime example of how the pieces work in local geography, landmarks, and culture for verisimilitude.       

—Judith M. Gallman



ABC Oakland with pictures and words by Michael Wertz (Heyday, April 2017, 32 pp., $17)

Michael Wertz, an Oakland illustrator and assistant professor of illustration at California College of the Arts, lets his enthusiasm for his longtime adopted hometown—“The city I love the most,” according to the dedication—shine in this new children’s book. He celebrates The Town, from its manmade and natural attractions to is diverse people. His drawings are bold, bright, angular, and whimsical, identifying iconic Oakland by its cranes, the Grand Lake Theatre marquee, Lake Merritt gondolas, redwoods, and the Tribune Tower, among others. His rhyming message is equally charming, urging readers to embrace what they love and be themselves. It’s a keeper for an Oaklander’s local bookshelf. Heyday and Oaklandish are distributing it to public kindergarten classes in Oakland.      

—Judith M. Gallman


Published online on May 12, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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