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Tarbaby feat. Oliver Lake: Dance of the Evil Toys (Clean Feed)

A review of the trio's first album in nearly a decade

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Tarbaby featuring Oliver Lake: Dance of the Evil Toys (Clean Feed)
The cover of Dance of the Evil Toys by Tarbaby featuring Oliver Lake

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.

Learn more about Dance of the Evil Toys on Amazon and Apple Music.

Tarbaby: Back to Basics

Jackson Sinnenberg

Jackson Sinnenberg is a broadcast journalist and writer based in Washington, D.C. He serves as an editor for Capitalbop, a non-profit that focuses on presenting live jazz and covering the D.C. jazz scene through grassroots journalism. He’s covered the city’s local jazz scene since 2015 but has covered national and international jazz, rock and pop artists for a variety of publications. He graduated from Georgetown in 2015 with a degree in American Musical Culture and will gladly argue why Kendrick Lamar is a jazz musician. Follow him @sinnenbergmusic.