Secession isn’t what it used to be. While his father — famed Second Vermont Republic founder Thomas Naylor — continues raging against the machine, young Xander Naylor exerts his free will musically. Jazz is autonomous, after all, a declaration of independence from the mainstream. And the younger Naylor has found able confederates in Burlington players Ian Kovac (upright bass) and Peter Negroponte (drums). The guitarist/composer now lives in Gotham, where he collaborates with no fewer than three bands. But it’s this self-produced EP, flush with originals, which should impress. Mentally Mobile finds the experimental trio debuting six instrumentals, which are lucid and inscrutable by turns.
“Nocturne” opens amid electric buzz, with Kovac’s contrabass stepping cautiously through the effects like toes slipping into a dark lake, certain there are creatures below. It’s a moody aperitif meant only to entice us further. Conversely, the more accessible “Mind at Ease” produces broad, contemplative melodies. Negroponte’s surging percussion anchors an up-tempo narrative, before devolving into free jazz. The drummer skips from toms to cymbals like a rhythm devil, his spacey, slipstream sounds approximating something one might hear mid-set at a Dead show. Then, out of the void, the band regroups with zeal, breathing familiar hooks back into the mix.
Fans of Lanterna will fawn over the sweeping “Doittoit,” a heady, atmospheric march crowned with wailing guitar. Naylor’s chord progressions loom like thunderheads around an agitated snare. It’s a sensory storm with hints of post-rock. As is the seven-minute exercise “aka Mini-Food.” What starts as light interplay grows into spitfire arpeggios and a sharp prog attack. But instead of precisely calibrated turns, these are sonic sketches. Naylor shows an almost cavalier approach as he noodles about, deftly accelerates and finally cedes to Negroponte, who is given free range to stretch. If there’s a lapsing focus, one can’t blame them. Mobile was tracked at Charles Eller Studios, where such improvisation is the soup du jour.
The trio closes with the schizophrenic “Attention/Nice to Meet You.” Dreamy and metallic, it’s a fitting summation of the band’s abilities. Kovac works his upright feverishly, fingers straining to find structure amid the ambient distortion that surrounds him. There’s an anthem buried amid the noise. But buzzing electronics turn what might have been a catchy reprise into a psychedelic sendoff. Undeniably wayward, Xander’s outfit shows enough spunk to satisfy even a separatist like Thomas Naylor. They also forge strong hooks ideal for the jazz-rock crowd. This is challenging music that demands some mental mobility, but rewards it in kind.
Catch the Xander Naylor Trio this Sunday at Club Metronome, opening for Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey.