Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Tarbaby Puts an End to Fear

Intense, enigmatic, often very funny, Tarbaby’s debut album The End of Fear is a jazz power trio of sorts featuring Orrin Evans on piano, Eric Revis on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums along with some welcome guests: JD Allen on tenor, Oliver Lake on alto and Nicholas Payton on trumpet. Darkly melodic, fearlessly spontaneous (hence the title) and bristling with combustible energy, time may judge this a classic. Why? After all, there’ve been a ton of energetic jazz albums this year. Answer: clarity of vision. The group latch onto these compositions, dig deep and find the gems inside, tribute as much to the quality of the songs here as much as the playing. Evans has a well-deserved reputation as a powerhouse player, but his most powerful moments here are in the quietest, gentlest passages. Revis, who’s responsible for some of the best pieces here, is subtle to the extreme, a rare bassist who doesn’t waste a note. Waits adds rare elements of musicality and surprise to everything he touches, and he’s in typical form here. Each of the horn players brings his signature as well: Allen’s terse purism, Lake’s practically iconoclastic flights and Payton’s irrepressibility.

The tracks alternate between miniatures and more expansive works, kicking off with a vignette that pits murky, circular Evans stomp versus Lake’s buoyant explorations. The sardonically titled Brews is the blues after too many drinks – although the sauce hasn’t affected anyone other than the staggering rhythm section. Evans drifts between eloquence and chaos, Revis plays the voice of reason out for a long walk, and then it ends cold. Heads, followed later by Tails, are the freest moments here, brief but potent contrasts between background rumble and Payton going wild shooting targets.

Their best songs are the darkest ones. Evans’ showstopper is Jena 6, a brooding commentary on the recent tragic events in Arkansas that packs a wallop in the darkness, glittering obsidian rivulets growing to a harrowing, gospel-inflected intensity. Hesitation, a long mini-suite of sorts by Waits, grows from funereal, through a bitter chromatic dirge that explodes in freedom and reconfigures with similarly gospel-fueled triumph. Fats Waller’s Lonesome Me is reinvented brilliantly as an austere ballad featuring some warily beautiful, minimalist Allen phrasing. By contrast, the version of Andrew Hill’s Tough Love here is a rapidfire display of deft handoffs and team riffage.

There’s also great humor here. Unity, by Sam Rivers shifts suddenly from the cohesion suggested by the title to a wild battle for the ball between Lake and Payton, Evans a bit later on discovering the song’s inner latin soul while Waits stomps through it in his swim fins. November ’80, by Lake, must have been a hell of a time, Evans reaching to calm things down a bit before handing it over to Revis who cleverly ratchets it up again. And a cover of the Bad Brains’ Sailin’ On establishes these guys as a solid hardcore band, Evans’ furious lefthand maintaining the roar in place of the guitar – and contributing a seriously amusing ending. They close with a rapturous, slowly congealing, starlit version of Paul Motian’s Abacus. Check back here sometime and see where it ends up on our list of the best albums of 2010.

October 17, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Orrin Evans – Faith in Action

We like to mix it up here. The most recent jazz album we reviewed was headphone jazz; the one before that was gypsy jazz. This one is solace-after-a-hard-day jazz. Pianist Orrin Evans leads a trio with bassist Luques Curtis and Nasheet Waits on drums here on his Posi-Tone Records debut, essentially a tribute to Evans’ friend and mentor Bobby Watson. Evans matches a precise articulation to a hard-hitting lefthand attack: his playing is cerebral, intense, sometimes febrile, often uneasy. It will pick you up and straighten your head out even as it plays games with your mind: there’s a lot going on here, as sharply focused as the playing is.

Evans kicks off with an original, the matter-of-factly bluesy Don’t Call Me Wally, switching up the time signature and getting a little march thing going on for awhile. The title track, like many others here a Watson composition has a shuffling My Favorite Things vibe propelled artfully by Waits’ lithe cymbal work. Wheel Within a Wheel has Evans cutting loose amidst lush sheets of cymbals by Rocky Bryant, Waits playfully doing three-on-four behind Curtis’ brief, incisive solo. Another Watson tune, Appointment in Milano has Evans bludgeoning a chromatic vamp a la McCoy Tyner.

The fifth track is essentially a funk song in shifting tempos, chugging bass propelling it as guest Gene Jackson’s drums add color. Beattitudes, by Watson, climbs out of the murk impressionistically and expansively; an Evans original, MAT-Matt prowls around over a hypnotic chromatic riff. The best song on the album is the title cut from Watson’s landmark 1986 album, Love Remains, done here as an understatedly rueful ballad, sustained chords over a matter-of-fact, resigned rhythm section and some deliciously ominous, starlit, upper register work from Evans at the end. The album wraps up with a no-nonsense stride number by Evans that gives Curtis a chance to up the intensity with a defiantly strutting solo, and a straight-up swing tune.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Komeda Project – Requiem

To say that an album is as important as it is good could be interpreted many different ways – but the second release by the Komeda Project is in the best sense of the word. Pianist/composer Krzysztof Komeda is not unknown to fans of both jazz and cinema (quick to pick up on Komeda’s trademark cinematic style, Roman Polanski enlisted him to write film music for Knife in the Water and Rosemary’s Baby). But Komeda is overdue for a revival, and fortuitously we have the Komeda Project to renew interest in a figure who is something of a doomed legend in jazz history. Komeda died in 1968 at age 37 from complications of a head injury sustained under mysterious circumstances. Medical malpractice or something even more sinister may also have played a role (the Polish communist regime, not particularly fond of western-inclined jazz musicians, is suspected by some). The Komeda Project’s first album Crazy Girl covered some of Komeda’s more accessible, straight-up compositions – “club music,” as the group puts it. This time around, group leader and pianist Andrzej Winnicki is joined by his powerhouse countryman, saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna, noted New York trumpeter Russ Johnson and an American rhythm section of Scott Colley on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums, working their way with equal parts care and abandon through a selection of Komeda’s darkest works. Much of this sounds like a less jarring Balkan version of Mingus, ranging from moody to outright gloomy. At its best, Komeda’s work is extraordinarily affecting – it refuses to let the listener go, and the band here does justice to the material as well as including two original compositions by Winnicki that often vividly echo Komeda.

The album opens with the three-part Night-time, Daytime Requiem, written for Coltrane. Its Trane influence isn’t felt in its haunting, almost Satie-esque piano but it is very much present in the sax chart, and Medyna attacks it with an aptly rapidfire, inspired aggression. Like much of the rest of the music here, it’s strikingly imagistic and wouldn’t be out of place in an arthouse suspense film, matching wary trills to an uneasy mid 2oth century urban bustle a la Mingus or mid-50s Miles. Ballad for Bernt, from the Knife in the Water score, is sad and beautiful with a particularly poignant Johnson solo. The aptly titled Dirge for Europe is literally a funeral march, Waits and Colley impressively taking it lento but managing to imbue it with an almost reluctant swing.

Astigmatic, which served as something of a signature song for Komeda, gets a clever, playful treatment through its Brubeck-esque opening section, grows insistent with Johnson and Medyna sailing overhead and grows to where Medyna decides to take a full-tilt run for the border with some wild, Turkish-flavored swirls and wails – it’s easily the most adrenalizing moment here. Prayer and Question is the most overtly Mingus-inflected number here, an imploring dialogue between piano and sax that grows to a lengthy, scurrying chase scene. Of the Winnicki originals here, there’s the expressive, expansive ballad Elutka, bass and drums roaming casual and free beneath somewhat rubato piano, and the cd’s concluding cut, Anubis, a pensively shape-shifting Komeda homage that does justice to its main inspiration. Overall, this is an inspired and impressive reintroduction to a great cult artist who would no doubt have transcended that category had he not been cut down before his time.

Happily, the Komeda Project plays the occasional live show as well (they’ve recently made the Cornelia Street Cafe their New York home) – check back for live dates.

October 21, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments