More albums should start with an invocational piece. That kind of music, like the opening hymn of Trudy Pitts’ “Blessed Ones of the Eternal Truth” on Tarbaby’s Dance of the Evil Toys, adds a deeply sacred air to everything after it.
It’s been nearly 10 years since Tarbaby, the fearsome creative trio of pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits, offered its last releases (2013’s Ballad of Sam Langford and Fanon), but the group hasn’t lost its touch for composing and performing music that captures life’s delicate dance between discord and harmony. Oliver Lake joins the trio again, as he did in 2013, for most of the record, aiding the group’s explorations in music that plays with time, texture, and tonality but never truly departs the bop and postbop tradition.
The group’s music on Dance of the Evil Toys often has a quicksand, funnel-like quality, drawing listeners in as it builds—or descends. On “Paix,” the only composition credited to Tarbaby as a unit, Evans and Lake slowly trade melodies as Revis and Waits hold tension tight; the four musicians seem to exhale midway with a calm, reflective passage, letting silence ring for a few seconds before Revis and Evans skitter a cascade of notes that preludes a Lake eruption.
Tarbaby has a lot of fun with this kind of build-and-release throughout the record; the short Revis-penned piano meditation “JRMJ,” for example, gives way to Waits’ explosive “KE-KELLI.” And all tension is released on the final track, a ruminative and gorgeous reimagining of Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows in April.” You can feel all the toxicity leaving your body as the pure sweetness of this music fills you.