DC Jazz Festival: Tarbaby’s Shapeshifting Brilliance
I didn't bring my notebook when I saw Tarbaby at The Fridge Saturday night. I wasn't planning to write a review—just wanted to check out the scene of CapitalBop's Jazz Loft at the Capitol Hill arts space.* But the experiments wrought by the young power trio (pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis, drummer Nasheet Waits) were so exciting, I whipped out my phone and took notes.
The band is a collective shapeshifter, morphing faster than you can grab hold of it. The opening avant-garde piece, "So Damn Tired," slid with no warning into a stomping swing of a Trudy Pitts tune. Their third number was a furious abstract workout called "Sometimes Y" (a joke that comes from their frequent helps of "OHH!") that coalesced without warning into a warm flow led by Evans. Just as quickly, though, it melted away. Evans still led the charge, but it was a freeform catharsis of spiky, delirious notes picked up flurriedly by Revis in solo. (Revis also acted as the band's liaison to the packed house.)
Waits, however, may have held the dominant position in the set. It was partly the cavernous acoustics of the concrete-and-sheetrock hall that made him resonate so. But it was also his prodigious energy and fleet command of his kit. The snare, in particular, rang out like a duel of high-powered rifles in a Western movie, finding new places to accent in the rhythms of "Sometimes Y."
The final piece was an unbearably beautiful, gospel-tinged ballad that Evans carried, though the crawling vocality of Revis' bass is what lingers in this writer's ears. And while the abstraction that the trio etched out was as joyfully unpredictable as you'd hope at a live free-jazz performance, it always retained the reflective sense of spiritual glory from which it began. That'll teach me to come unprepared.
*This writer profoundly regrets not hitting the scene earlier, when Kris Funn and Corner Store opened the show. He'll have to take the word of a colleague who was there: "Dude. They fucking killed it."