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Tarbaby: The End of Fear

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A followup to 2009’s self-titled debut, The End of Fear has the core trio of pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits still intact. Saxophonist Stacy Dillard is gone and honorary member J.D. Allen, a bona fide tenor titan for these times, fills in on a few tracks. Alto saxophonist Oliver Lake and trumpeter Nicholas Payton help punch up the cutting-edge proceedings on a few select tracks, including covers of Sam Rivers’ rambunctious “Unity” and Andrew Hill’s probing polyrhythmic puzzle “Tough Love.” Payton burns white-hot on the tumultuous group improv “Heads” (featuring spoken-word samples of Duke Ellington and Malcolm X), while Lake wails with authority on his own edgy “November ’80” and the other group improv, “Tails.”

From the angular and adventurous opener, “E-Math,” with its multilayered spoken-word textures on top, to interpretations of the Bad Brains’ hardcore anthem “Sailin’ On,” Fats Waller’s poignant ballad “Lonesome Me” (a beautiful tenor feature for Allen) and Paul Motian’s Zen-like rubato masterpiece “Abacus,” the variety couldn’t get any wider here. Payton turns in a stirring performance on Waits’ dramatic “Hesitation,” a dirgelike number that builds to a cathartic crescendo before resolving on an uplifting gospel-tinged note. Waits, ever the creative colorist and inveterate swinger with sticks, brushes and mallets, makes this music breathe with his choices of what he plays and doesn’t play. Revis, who alternately grooves and skronks on upright, delivers an uncommonly lyrical reading of “Abacus” on top of some sparse, crystalline piano accompaniment by Evans, who is a marvel throughout and a vastly underrated player in general.

A bit more on the fringe than anything recorded by Jason Moran’s Bandwagon, Waits’ other group, Tarbaby’s sophomore outing is one daring, genre-defying ride by an uncannily flexible crew of likeminded musical renegades.

Originally Published