Warning: This album is a tease! With just 32 minutes of music, the self-titled album from Tarbaby, a sort of all-star band of jazz up-and-comers, leaves you wanting more—much more. That must be the point, for Tarbaby makes every second count. Here are five musicians who interact beautifully. Every instrumentalist listens and responds to every other instrument. Tenor saxophonists J.D. Allen and Stacy Dillard, pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits give one another space to do their things, even in a densely packed tune such as Evans’ “Iz Beatdown Time.”
The album begins with a spoken-word sample, a quote from 2006 by the late White House spokesman Tony Snow that contained the phrase “tar baby.” After 45 seconds of this, the band dives into the deep end, with a forceful cover of the Don Cherry classic “Awake Nu.” Allen and Dillard circle each other while Waits, who is becoming one of the most exciting drummers in jazz, lays down a skittering rhythm. Just as the quintet hits a climax, it shuts down: We get just 3:15 of “Awake Nu” when 20 minutes might not have sufficed. Instead the band launches on a Revis composition called “0” that manages to find the middle ground between ’60s hard bop and postmodern savant-jazz.
The vocalist known as T.C. III brings his brooding baritone to a pair of tunes, “Being in Nothingness” and the album’s standout track, “Psalm 150:2,” whose polyrhythms and contrapuntal harmonies build to a furious finish. What a half-hour Tarbaby has given us. Now where’s the other half of the record? Can we have side two, please?