Inhabitants: A Vacant Lot
Drip Audio

On its latest album, Inhabitants leaves far behind any identification of itself as a ‘jazz' outfit, with the group's third full-length on Drip Audio, A Vacant Lot, sounding more like the work of an adventurous instrumental rock ensemble than any traditional jazz quartet. Trumpeter JP Carter, guitarist Dave Sikula, bassist Pete Schmitt, and drummer Skye Brooks play with fluid, collective purpose, at times tightly hewing to the pieces' compositional structures while at others straying from them with bold abandon. While some of the material has a loose, improvisatory feel (e.g., the restrained mood setting “What About the Water?”), a prototypical Inhabitants piece uses thematic statements as a locus of orientation for otherwise free-wheeling interplay and soloing.  

Distinguished by an anthemic theme that swells repeatedly during the piece, “Threes” is also notable for the sound of Carter's plaintive smears and Sikula's playing, which sounds uncannily like Bill Frisell's on “Threes” and “Journey of the Loach,” as Sikula, like his better-known counterpart, uses the guitar to generate washes and textures as well as lead lines (at times A Vacant Lot suggests that Inhabitants must have had Rambler and Lookout For Hope on regular rotation before the 2007 recording sessions). “Over It Begins” opens in subdued and pensive mode but then shifts into upper gear in a blinding hailstorm of guitar noise and trumpet blaze. It's chaotic, yes, but the rhythm section prevents the track from splintering into pieces, and Carter even indulges in a bit of Milesian electric voodoo with horn wailing reminiscent of Agharta and Pangaea. Upping the ferocity ante even more, the freakout “Let Youth Be Served” recalls Naked City's ferocious attack too. A reflective piece such as “Pacific Central,” on the other hand, shows the band can play with sensitivity and restraint when the mood strikes. Like Frisell, Zorn, et al., Inhabitants' players are technically proficient in the jazz musician sense of the word but A Vacant Lot would better be described as high-intensity instrumental music. And don't let the punning title fool you: this lot's anything but vacant.

June 2010