Lawnmower – West (CF 178)
Drummer Luther Gray explains in the brief liner notes to West, the debut of his ensemble Lawnmower, that the album is an attempt to reconcile the various genres he has worked in throughout his musical development. From his early days spent in punk bands like Tsunami, to his jazz-oriented work as a sideman with fellow Bostonians Jim Hobbs, Joe Morris and Steve Lantner, Gray has built a diverse discography founded on one common denominator—quality.
This session encapsulates Gray’s wide-reaching interests with the assistance of three empathetic peers. Criminally under-sung, saxophonist Jim Hobbs is one of the most creative and visceral jazz stylists working on alto today, while electric guitarists Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton invoke the sonic diversity of the indie rock scene. Farina’s experiences in post-punk bands Karate, Gloryteller and Secret Stars meshes well with Littleton’s more folk oriented approach, previously heard in bands like Ida and The Hated.
This date is a continuation of sorts to the work heard on New Salt (Xeng, 2005), which featured the same line-up sans Hobbs. Gray’s nuanced drive and elastic timing provide the quartet with a surfeit of textural and tonal stimuli. Hobbs’ expressive alto soars above the kaleidoscopic underpinning provided by Farina and Littleton, as the guitarists trade ideas and motifs with a languid, majestic intensity. The modal drones of Farina and Littleton’s guitars are a prevailing force throughout the session, veering from the spare pointillism of “Dan” to the harsh electronic gales that dominate the last half of “Two.” The over-arching concept fuses introspective, feedback laden guitar rock with the raw, freewheeling impetuousness of free jazz.
Jazz is widely perceived as an urban art form, and often, rightly so. But the spacious, unhurried dynamics Gray and company offer on West evokes the bucolic vistas of open sky territory more than the bustling fervor of a metropolis. The dramatically ascending “One” and the ethereal ballads “Prayers of Death” and “I Love” are steeped in Americana, as Farina and Littleton’s reverb drenched guitars ply countrified twang for Hobbs and Gray to embellish, deconstruct and collectively reinvent. “Glass” favors a more exotic patina, as the guitarists’ ringing arpeggios weave a dreamy mosaic of Eastern tonalities around Hobbs’ vocalized alto, while the appropriately titled “Giant Squid” conveys menace with a spasmodic thicket of coiled dissonances.
A pitch-perfect merger of jazz and rock, the conversational interplay between the members of the quartet espouses the finer aspects of improvisation, delivered in the instrumental tone colors of contemporary rock music. There have been many similar efforts over the years, but few quite as successful as West.