Ni Kantu review by Clifford Allen

LAWNMOWER – West (CF 178 )
Lawnmower is a semi-recent quartet based in the Northeast and comprised of drummer Luther Gray, guitarists Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton, and alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs. Minus Hobbs, the twined-guitar and drums trio went under the moniker of New Salt for a 2006 release on Kimchee. There’s a fair amount of history to Lawnmower, though one wouldn’t necessarily pick up on it at first – in addition to working as part of the Fully Celebrated Orchestra and in guitarist Joe Morris’ various small groups, Gray was a latter-day member of the DC indie-rock band Tsunami, while Farina and Littleton came up in deliberately-paced groups Karate and Ida, respectively. It’s not quite the pedigree one would expect in an improvising quartet, but at the same time the lack of clearly defined jazz or rock structure probably does this group well. There’s a stark, dusty twang and gritty electricity to the opening “One,” ringing downward strokes wrapping rapid, tremolo attack and muted shorts as Hobbs’s alto bounces and ricochets off of Gray’s surging chatter. Building from spare accent to brassy waves, the subtle rise and fall of limber, repeating planes are significant in setting off thorny counterpoint. Dry, acrid alto peals reach an earthy cadence on “Glass,” supported by gentle plugged-in harmonics, wisps of feedback and a malleted march. The metaphor of a competing tangle is apparent in “Giant Squid,” Gray’s rhythms chunky against seasick dives of wow and feedback, though the breath of a spry water bird comes through in Hobbs’s loquacious alto. West is a mostly quite spare set, but hinges on wiry comment and, at times, heated dialogue. There’s a spectral, field-like cast lent by the guitarists’ tonal gradations, shunting alto and percussion into uncharted areas and making this quartet date a welcome listen.

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