Starting a new label is no doubt a Herculean undertaking (some might say Sisyphean) so Jesse Zubot deserves credit for merely getting Vancouver-based Drip Audio up and running. Full-lengths from the jazz-flavoured quartet Inhabitants and acoustic-electronic trio LaConnor comprise two of the label's premiere offerings. Of the two, Inhabitants' accomplished outing impresses most with LaConnor's a rather middling affair.
Inhabitants is pitched as a group with ties to ‘70s-era Miles Davis and Godspeed You! Black Emperor but its sound veers closer to Mark Isham in his more jazz-themed forays (Miles Remembered: The Silent Way Project, for example) with the trumpeter JP Carter and Dave Sikula closer to an Isham-David Torn pairing than Miles-McLaughlin. Inhabitants is boldly experimental, though, with the group wholly unafraid of venturing into spacey territory. “Happy Princess” burns with a tumultuous Milesian fire that at times escalates to an incredible, apocalyptic roar, and Sikula's guitar phrase vaguely references Led Zeppelin of all things.
A noirish, claustrophobic aura haunts “Main Drag” with Carter's stratospheric trumpet cries egged on by Sikula's clean guitar picking and underpinned by Skye Brooks' lumbering drums and Pete Schmitt's plodding bass. Like many of the album's pieces, it seems too jazzy to be called post-rock but includes too little improvisation to classify it as jazz either (though the guitar theme in “Will We” is equal parts Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter); Carter himself has coined 'psychedelic jazz' as a possible description but it too seems off the mark, given the associations 'psychedelic' invites (admittedly, the cacophonous atmospheres stoked throughout “Out of the Under the” befit the label). The group is equally comfortable with the volume lowered; “Cozy Forever” flirts with stillness in its opening moments, Sikula's delicate playing reminiscent of Bill Frisell's (a similar tone reappears in the closing dirge “Twenty-Nine”). Though all four players distinguish themselves handily throughout, Carter's playing stands out as particularly fearless, the trumpeter adept at conjuring huge maelstroms of brassy noise with an electronically altered, echo-enhanced trumpet that at moments does recall Miles' wah-wah.
A much different acoustic-electronic hybrid emerges in LaConnor, performed by an experimental trio of violinist Zubot, clarinetist Francois Houle, and drummer Jean Martin (all three contribute electronics too). The group's disc includes fourteen sound settings that incorporate field elements, chamber passages, free episodes, and sample-based collages to sometimes startling effect. “Circle,” for example, combines elements of classical chamber music, improv, and electroacoustic music in striking if not always cohesive manner, while “Errol the Chinless Blither” showcases the group's more playful side. At other times, the results are less than enthralling, the annoying arrhythmic clatter dominating “Mr. Panhuysen” (presumably a homage to composer Paul Panhuysen) a case in point. In “Interlude #2,” Christine Duncan's singing seems incongruous when set against a plodding dirge of electronics, violin, and clarinet, and equally annoying voiceovers appear at the start of “Donkey Song.”
Though the album's pronounced improv dimension suggests that the trio convened for a number of studio sessions, the reality is that most of what's included resulted from files sent back and forth between them. While they no doubt had a great time creating this challenging experimental collection, one also wishes a better balance between noise and lyricism had been struck. Note, for example, how appealing the more conventionally musical “Nebula” sounds when it appears near album's end.
While Zubot's decision to establish Drip Audio is commendable, only one of the two releases invites an unequivocal recommendation. If LaConnor errs on the side of self-indulgence, Inhabitants strikes just the right balance between experimentation and structure on an album filled with solid compositions and superior musicianship.