Review: Lawnmower

Lawnmower
S/T
Clean Feed CD CF178

In the postmodern era, polystylism is all the rage; hyphenations such as jazz-rock, alt-folk, and even indie-classical abound. But the personnel on the Clean Feed recording Lawnmower, guitarists Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton, alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, and drummer Luther Gray have a different take on eclectic music-making. Rather than trying to create a stylistic amalgam, music that melds with two different genres into one synthesized mode of playing, the Lawnmower collective prefers to allow two different musical practices to coexist side by side. Thus the recording isn’t so much a jazz-rock hybrid as two different sets of musicians – folk-rockers Littleton and Farina and avant jazzers Hobbs and Gray – each playing in their own respective musical mother tongues.

While it may at first take some getting used to, the musical results are by no means as disjointed as the concept might at first suggest. After all, just because they aren’t changing their preferred method of playing doesn’t mean that the four participants aren’t still sensitive listeners and improvisers. Thus, Littleon and Farina are able to set up some fascinating arpeggiated drones on “One,” over which Hobbs crafts an angular, angst-laden solo; slinging bent notes in between the cracks of the guitarists equal-tempered perambulations. “Prayer of Death” provides two distinct commentaries on the 16-bar blues structure, with Hobbs eventually dispelling the sense of summit with caterwauling altissimo playing. Gray pushes the rhythmic lilt more overtly towards a palpable sense of swing on “Glass” – the guitarists counter with a more ambient demeanor. Conversely, “Dan” revels in sustained tones from both sides of the equation, with penetrating feedback thrown in for good measure.

Lawnmower thus presents a musical conversation in which the participants all speak different languages; yet they seem to understand each other perfectly. Intriguing stuff; one hopes this isn’t a one-off collaboration.

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