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Ross Hammond And Jon Bafus Explore 'Masonic Lawn' By Improvising Together


Guitarist Ross Hammond and drummer Jon Bafus share music from their new improvised album "Masonic Lawn.”

Ross Hammond blends jazz, folk, blues and a diverse array of influences on his acoustic guitar, resonator, lap steel and 12 string. Jon Bafus is the drummer and leader of Gentleman Surfer, which started as a solo project in 2006 and evolved into a four-piece band, incorporating jazz, psychedelic rock and other influences. Together they "mash polyrhythms with Appalachian melodies, roots music and blues into duo improvisations."

The custom-released album was limited to 50 copies, with a unique polaroid of the Masonic Lawn cemetery in Sacramento included with each CD. The album title "Masonic Lawn" is inspired by the real cemetery near their home base.

"We both rehearse and record [at Gold Lion Arts], and the Masonic Lawn is the cemetery that's right across the street from us," says guitarist Ross Hammond. "So we thought it would be apropos to do a project dedicated to that."

"I would always see that sign [for Masonic Lawn]," says drummer Jon Bafus. "I always thought it was really interesting. I've always thought that Free Masons were always an interesting entity, very mysterious. I just know it's a beautiful cemetery, I see 'Masonic Lawn' every day and I wrote it in my notebook probably three years ago and said, 'I'm going to use that title for something, someday.'"

The entire album was improvised in a recording studio over two days, says Bafus. "There are ideas behind all the tunes, and so it's not necessarily reinventing the wheel each time. There are melodic and rhythmic motifs that exist in a loose form, but largely improvised. It's been really easy. We've been playing together for a long time, it's never felt forced or difficult at all. We usually can just sit down and say 'Go.' However long it needs to be, we never seem to find ourselves stuck in any weird spots. It's always pretty fluid feeling."

"We're both equally angry," says Hammond. "I think it works better if we don't talk about the music, if we just play, if we just listen to one another and make it work like we're having a conversation. If we're improvising, the music in the end, I think, is better.

122917 Masonic Lawn Cover Image P Lola Hammond / Courtesy

Every physical copy of the album came with a unique Polaroid photo and a hand-written title. "My daughter Lola and I did the Polaroids," says Hammond. "We took a day and went into the cemetery. I gave her the camera, and said, 'Honey, just shoot everything. Shoot whatever you want. She was a trooper, she's seven. She has a photo credit on the back of the record. Putting it together, we wrote on the photos like you do with a Polaroid and a Sharpie. And then we glued them onto the CD covers. I think they look really cool.

Both musicians balance fatherhood with art, but Jon Bafus also makes paintings. "It's a bit of a tradeoff," says Bafus. "At least for the last few years since my daughter was born, I haven't painted much. I got into a really active period this entire year. It started turning into the idea of having a show, which just came down at the Warehouse Artist Lofts Public Market Gallery. I ended up making a bunch of stuff. As far as the ba  lance goes, I can only kind of choose one thing. And I can usually go days and months without painting, but I can't go days or even a single day without working on drums."

122917 Jon Bafus Painting 1 P "Fruit Stripe Gumbee Whirled" by Jon Bafus / Courtesy
122917 Jon Bafus Painting 3 P"Cubic Fruit Plate 1" by Jon Bafus / Courtesy
"Jon and I are both full time musicians," says Hammond. "We're basically dads and full time musicians. I'm 40, and it's totally different than when I was 25. If I'm playing to my peers at 25 and people are coming out to see me, well by the time we're 30 a lot of them are married, a lot of them have kids, a lot of them don't come out. As an artist, there's not really a model that everyone can follow. While you're creating your art, you also have to create your own career, or create your own model of how you're going to do things, and you have to ultimately survive."

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Cody Drabble

Insight Producer and On-Air Director

Cody Drabble learned to love public radio growing up in San Francisco with KQED on every morning during breakfast. In addition to producing and directing the live broadcast of Insight each morning, he also fills in as guest host for Beth Ruyak.   Read Full Bio 

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