Undead Jazz Festival: Day 1, June 23, 2011
The trio between saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, pianist Kris Davis and drummer Tyshawn Sorey was one of those very rare bands that can make you re-evaluate what music is and where it can go. Paradoxical Frog was both tamed and feral, both thoroughly composed and improvised, both microscopic and larger than life. The trio started off with one note, shared between Davis, Laubrock and Sorey on melodica, moving slowly and deliberately stirring up occasional intrigue with secondary notes. The trio moved into melodic territory in sympathetic vibration, Laubrock's vocal sputters and little cells of melodies reacting with Davis's low register and Sorey's reverberating cymbal tones. The beginning part of the set was a commentary on space and sound; everything from the upper register of Davis's piano, the whispers of Laubrock's tenor and the startling melodic nature of Sorey's cymbal creaks echoed and swirled in tandem. When it finally made it's way to more aggressive territory, it was a whole different story. Laubrock's warlike screeches soared above Davis's thunderous plunks while Sorey exploded with lightning fast toms and rim-tapping paradiddles in an obscured meter.
The band's frighteningly original sound concept was nearly impossible to pin down, but most likely came from the diverse approaches the band holds and given the democratic nature of the trio, all the combined influences are shared by each trio member. The group's sense of classical invention most likely came through the classically trained Davis. She encompassed each new section with the parental support of her low notes and left-right hand volleys, however Laubrock also played many laconic and searching melodies. Laubrock most likely engendered the presence of free and aggressive avant-garde jazz, but all members of the trio indulged Davis's kinetic, spidery lines and Sorey's rumbles, contributing to the forward charge. Sorey, in all probability, contributed more than a few attributes to the trio, such as a meditative story-like minimalism, indeterminacy and rhythmic ambiguity. Sorey's enthusiasm for the works of thinkers like John Cage seemed to bring about the band's quiet, natural atmosphere, tossing cymbals and sticks and letting them fall where they may. His rhythmic concept was his way of creating melodies on a secondary plane of existence, each implied meter or rhythmic mode a melody in and of itself.
However, no amount of analysis can perfectly summate the mystery and wonder the trio was able to accomplish. When Laubrock used her mouthpiece to gurgle into a cup of water, it seemed amusing at first, until the compositional atmosphere took hold with Sorey accompanying the sounds using wood flute and blowing through a cymbal hole, captivating the audience with sonic capability. There's no amount of listening that could have determined just how the band inserted grooving, complex modern jazz within the context of quiet pensiveness. There's no way of truly knowing how Davis sews together the trio's compositions with a patient composure or how Laubrock mediates melodicism and wolf-like aggression or how Sorey restlessly invents new colors. In the end, the band's name is appropriate, a quandary that endlessly fascinates.
Free jazz is an unmistakable part of what is happening with jazz right now and when looked at retroactively, is not too much younger than bebop itself. The collective between pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis, drummer Nasheet Waits and World Saxophone Quartet founder Oliver Lake was a group that emphasized the spirit and sound of freedom, mashing up and extrapolating from all realms of creative music in the last fifty or so years.
Much of the music was fronted and commandeered by Lake's impassioned alto sound. He soared with Ornette-like melodies, steeped in blues and jazz tradition, but took the opportunity at every step to switch into hard-edged, avant-garde mode. The band's dynamic was ever-shifting and frenetic, a kind of abandon that was not reckless, but rather mostly without reck. Tarbaby was clearly having fun in their seriousness; one composition was punctuated by a collective shout from whichever band members weren't soloing. Revis was of a fiery disposition, hammering all parts of his bass to an almost shocking degree, but given his ample technique and experience, never came off as animalistic. Waits carried and navigated much of the band's free-form shifts and it was a worthwhile ride each time. When the drummer got into something, whether it was a heavy swing or a breakbeat, he went full tilt with no hesitation. Evans' approach to this kind of freedom was the most intriguing. His lush chords and gospel inflection stayed with him most of the time, injecting the music with an unusual brightness and determination amidst the storm.
Tarbaby's concept of freedom and optimism amidst chaos was singular, but they weren't limited in their genre capabilities. They traversed knotty angular blues heads, soulful hard-bop sensibilities and intricate tone poems. What made Tarbaby unique was their approach. At their quietest, they were very serious but never reaching the level of somber. When they were loud, they were the loudest they can be, riling up Thursday's audience into no-holds-barred head banging.