Pursuing Ecstasy: Darius Jones and Tarbaby at Ironworks
Listening to improvised music can feel like chasing ecstasy: catching at those rare, first and fleeting moments of transport, of heightened attention and unadulterated joy that the performers are also after, often on our behalf – what John Coltrane might have called, following the title of one of the movements of A Love Supreme, pursuance. Last night in Vancouver in an 80-minute set, the alto saxophonist Darius Jones, buoyed up by the surging mellifluence of the piano trio Tarbaby, unleashed those spirit-heavy resonances, that deep cry, in song after song. I’m grateful to been there in the audience at the Ironworks, grateful to have heard. The compositions they played came mostly from Darius Jones’s recent album on AUM Fidelity, Book of Mae’bul, but despite being assembled as a quartet only for a current brief tour, these musicians are much, much more than featured-soloist-and-rhythm-section; they attain an audible integration, a co-creative and responsive agency that feels as if they have been together for years. The opening number reminded me a little of a David S. Ware quartet, with its roiling, keening groove, while I also heard passing echoes, I thought, of Coltrane’s late quartet, with Nasheet Waits’s multiloquent drumming calling up at times the robust, insistent textures Rashied Ali’s layered conception. Orrin Evans’s piano alternates between attenuated lyricism – his left-hand chords often feel suspended, as if holding their breath – and driving provocation. At one point in an improvisation, he appeared to find the famous melody from “I Got Rhythm,” not as an ironically knowing quote but as a means of casting our ears back over a century of foundational jazz practice, palpably reinvigorating a fragment of thoroughly worn-down standard by pulling and caressing the familiar phrase into an alternate time-frame, cross-purposing, if only for a few seconds, the known and the unknown, unsettling the given. Eric Revis’s bass playing felt charged and profound, pushing the music forward with cascading fierceness. Darius Jones’s lines negotiated between dulcet and ululating, shifting from seductive balladry to jagged yawp, before arriving at what felt to me like heartfelt psalmody. The quartet offered us a tremendous, powerful and moving set, a music that, for almost an hour and a half, bore witness to and delivered genuine, shared beauty.