Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tarbaby at Jazz Gallery

After being shut out of some recent shows around town, I made sure to show up early at Jazz Gallery to check out Tarbaby.  It's a relatively small space and the group consisted of four of the heaviest hitters on the contemporary scene - Orrin Evans, Eric Revis, Nasheet Waits and Logan Richardson.  So, I was surprised to see empty seats, especially as I've seen the place packed for groups featuring some of the same personnel.  Maybe there was something else going on that night that I didn't know about, but the people that did have the taste and good sense to show seemed to be into the music.  One of the best spontaneous reactions someone can have to music is to laugh - not because they find the music funny, but because they're thrilled and astonished by what they've just heard.  It's a joyful thing, and not every musician can make it happen, but Tarbaby certainly can and does (they also get a lot of "WHOA!"s).

It's challenging for me to adequately describe this music, but looking at a couple of the musician/composers whose tunes they played (most of the set seemed to be originals), Don Cherry ("Awake Nu" from Where is Brooklyn? - it also appears on Tarbaby's first album) and Sam Rivers ("Unity"), both musicians who masterfully navigated (or perhaps, erased or ignored) the divides between in vs. out, free vs. composed/arranged, may at least give a sense of the spirit of this group.  Tarbaby excels at giving a free, on-the-edge feeling to a seemingly arranged piece, pulling a piece apart to the point of chaos before snapping it back together with awesome precision.  This is something that Jason Moran's Bandwagon (also - and probably not coincidentally - featuring Nasheet Waits, quite possibly the best drummer in New York City right now) specializes in, something which could perhaps even be considered one of the hallmarks of the best jazz being made today, a tenuous common thread in an era in which stylistic strands have diverged in innumerable directions.

Maybe someone has done this, but I would love to read a good article (even a book) covering the major approaches to composition that have developed in, say, the last twenty or thirty years, techniques that have evolved within common practice as well as totally individual systems (Henry Threadgill's, for instance).  Because this is where my knowledge and my ear often run up against their limits.  On some of Tarbaby's original tunes, there was obviously a head and the musicians were looking at some kind of a lead sheet, but it was hard for me to tell how much else was written out - was there a set number of bars before returning to the head? was there an arranged ending?  Not that this affected my enjoyment of the music - this was music to be felt in the moment and thought about later - but the impulse to understand more about the things we enjoy is a healthy one, I think.

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