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The Inhabitants, A Vacant Lot

On the surface, A Vacant Lot by The Inhabitants looks like a bizarre, eff-you DIY punk project–that was my reaction, at least, when opening the album to put the CD into my car stereo. The black-and-white album cover features a weird wolf-crow spiderman thing, no liner notes and a font that might have come from the credits to a zombie movie. I expected an assault of distortion and angularity, no holds barred.

What actually transpired, though, was quite different. The quartet–which features JP Carter on trumpet, Skye Brooks on drums, Pete Schmitt on bass and Dave Sikula on guitar–creates a stunningly unpredictable ambiance that ebbs and flows in a way that moves the ear easily along with it. The assault does come occasionally, such as in the beginning of “Let Youth Be Saved,” but is only a small part of the group’s musical palette.

To call this music jazz might be a bit of a stretch–the group does utilize a recognizably rockish aesthetic. But it fits, swaying from pounding drums and distorted guitars to rubato, ambient ruminations. The loose articulation and patient transitions between sections create beautiful musical tension that is usually resolved by blending subtly into new material. And clearly, the spontaneity and melodic contours of some of the songs owe themselves to a jazz-inspired tradition.

A Vacant Lot conveys bold, raw and forthright creativity. This group is still on their way up, for sure–once they incorporate ways of better dealing with some of the more repetitive aspects of the songs to keep things interesting, I can their concept really taking off. Keep your eye out for these guys–we might be looking at the next group of Vancouver imports to the New York scene, now that BC jazz pioneers like Ingrid Jensen and Darcy James Argue seem to be making themselves comfortable here …

Is this guy just so 2002?

The media hype machine might not have noticed, but Brad Mehldau is no longer on the cutting edge of new jazz releases. Since the release of Highway Rider in March, I have had the pleasure of hearing at least six new jazz CD releases that may not have the same media profile, but convey a whole lot more inspired music. They are Reclamation by Stephan Crump’s Rosetta Trio, It’s About That Time by the Hot Club of Detroit, Bloom by Ben Monder and Bill McHenry, A Vacant Lot by The Inhabitants, Backatown by Trombone Shorty and Royal Toast by the Claudia Quintet.

Last fall, I participated in a conversation at NPR’s A Blog Supreme, where seven young jazz writers listed some of their favorite releases from the past decade. Brad Mehldau was a consensus pick among my fellow jazz youngsters, and so when his new CD Highway Rider came out in March, it was a big event across the Jazz Internet. Some examples of Mehldau’s praise can be found at Nextbop and Pop & Hiss, the LA Times music blog. Jacob Teichroew from jazz.about.com, on the other hand, wasn’t too impressed.

I wasn’t wowed by what I heard, either, so I chose not to weigh in despite its status as one of the most-hyped jazz releases that will probably occur this year. But since then, I’ve heard a number of great new jazz CDs, and these six are my favorites. I guess this is somewhat of a follow up to Phil Freeman’s album review odyssey over at Burning Ambulance, where he reviewed 31 albums in 31 days. This project is a bit less ambitious: I’ll be highlighting six releases over the next six days, starting tomorrow. In the meantime, check them out!

Reclamation by Stephan Crump’s Rosetta Trio

It’s About That Time by the Hot Club of Detroit

Bloom by Ben Monder and Bill McHenry

A Vacant Lot by The Inhabitants

Backatown by Trombone Shorty

Royal Toast by the Claudia Quintet

You’ll get one review a day for the rest of the week, starting with Reclamation tomorrow. Also keep your eye out for Rosetta Trio’s studio session on The Checkout this Tuesday (June 1), and their hit at the Jazz Gallery on Thursday (June 3).

UPDATE: Matt Merewitz had the bright idea of chiming in with his own suggestions for new releases that are better than Highway Rider in the comments section. Please augment his list if you can, as I’m always looking for new stuff to check out.

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