Lawnmower – West (CF 178)
Architecturally organized into sound blocks, the seven tracks on this quartet`s debut CD bleed one into another to create a distinct aural picture. Mostly mid-tempo and somewhat monochromic, the pieces seem to take as much from shoe-gazer rock and poignant country music as jazz improvisation.
That’s not surprising, considering that two of players – guitarists Dan Littleton and Geoff Farina – are part of indie-rock bands such as Ida, Karate and Secret Stars. Drummer Luther Gray is a former punk-rocker who now plays with improv stylist such as saxophonist Ken Vandermark and guitarist Joe Morris. Leader of the Fully Celebrated Orchestra, alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, having worked with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum among others, is the jazz spark here.
On ballads such as “Prayer of Death” and “Love”, the guitarists churn out Appalachian-styled twangs and tremolo slides as the saxophonist’s melismatic whines and choked slurs approximate the lonesome timbres of primitivist singers. When his tone isn’t reminiscent of Dock Boggs’ vocals, Hobbs channels Ornette Coleman. On a piece such as “Giant Squid” Hobbs’ creates jaunty, linear solos whose child-like intonation contrast with the guitarists’ crunching reverb and discordant fuzz tones Littleton and Farina only fleetingly differentiate themselves throughout when one vibrates steel-guitar-like licks and the other gashes his strings, producing abrasive rebounds. Meanwhile Gray’s presence is strictly supportive, sticking to bare-bone paradiddles and uncomplicated clatters and rolls.
Even on “Two”, West’s lengthiest track at almost 14¾ minutes, the pause between sections is no drum break, but an opportunity for methodical clunks and rustling raps from Gray. Half-lullaby and half-lament, resonating guitar drones at the top develop into fortissimo string shakes and blurry note sprays by the end, with Hobbs’ pinched reed bites and split tones providing the contrast.
Gray says the band name came from his youth mowing lawns while listening to music through a walkman. As imposing as some of the tracks are, the CD’s underlying melancholy may discourage an identical strategy here: a severed toe may result.