Interview: Bandleader & Bassist Eric Revis on Tarbaby
by BRIAN HOWE on FEBRUARY 28, 2013
Tarbaby (Eric Revis – R)
On Tuesday, we talked to saxophonist Oliver Lake about his work with Tarbaby, a stellar young jazz trio performing at the Casbah tomorrow and Saturday nights. Today, we catch up with Tarbaby bandleader Eric Revis.
Revis, a Grammy-winning bassist and composer who rose to fame backing Betty Carter before joining Branford Marsalis’ ensemble, discusses his bond with pianist Orrin Evans and drummer Nasheet Waits, the influence of Oliver Lake, and the two new albums Tarbaby has on the way.
The Thread: Could you tell us about how Tarbaby formed?
ERIC REVIS: I got to New York in the early 90’s; Orrin [Evans] came a little bit later. Nasheet [Waits] and I had played together in a couple configurations, Orrin and Nasheet had played together, Orrin and I had. After awhile in New York, you start homing in on likeminded individuals, with guys you have a certain camaraderie with on and off the bandstand, and it was one of those things. When we finally got together as a trio, I think it was for Orrin’s record Blessed Ones, and we also did a tour with a Japanese trumpet player. Around that time we were like, “Wow, this is a unit we really need to keep going and allow to grow.”
Did you have any explicit goal or concept for the band, or was it just about the camaraderie you felt?
I think in developing that like-mindedness, certain elements attracted us to each other and we were all on the same page. So it was kind of second nature; I don’t think there was anything explicit, although certain elements are intrinsic in each of us. It’s almost as if we all come from the same house, so whatever disparate ideas we may have, it’s very open and there’s a lot of trust.
What makes Waits and Evans special to you as players and people?
I could go on and on. There’s a certain honesty and integrity about the way they conduct themselves, and I think that honesty translates musically. We live in a day when a lot of stuff, especially in quote-unquote jazz, is very superficial, very fluff. Both of them have a reverence for tradition and also a commitment to look forward on the music’s continuum. It’s rare to find it—people who want to swing but who also want to play extemporaneously, with a certain conviction. That’s just part and parcel of who they are as people.
In that way, are there other jazz groups today you feel solidarity with?
Tarbaby is playing music in a fashion that is almost frowned upon these days, but with that ideal we’re a bigger family than just a trio. Nasheet is in my quartet and Nasheet’s group Equality is part of it; Orrin’s trio and big band are part of it. They adhere to the same principles. In terms of other groups, the Bad Plus—they have their own set of criteria that they follow wholeheartedly. We’re very cool with them. There’s a bunch, but it’s hard to think of them on the spot!
I was actually thinking of the Bad Plus.
Even though we’re different, I think the honesty they go about their thing with is the same, and also they’re a band, for better or for worse depending on whatever your personal musical proclivities are. They are a band, and they sound like a band and move like a band. That’s very admirable. And they’re cool dudes.
You have two albums out as Tarbaby, how did the group change between them?
I think that the first album was kind of exploring the idea of being a unit. It featured J.D. Allen and Stacy Dillard. We hadn’t really honed in on the trio yet even though that was the idea all along. With the second album, we had this core that we could then add different elements to, different icing. They’re different albums, but it’s all part and parcel of the development of a group.
Why did you want to bring in Oliver Lake to re-record his “November 80?”
We wanted to play with Oliver! That was the thing. Those criteria that we adhere to, Oliver’s been part of that for a long time. He’s just a masterful musician and a very well-rounded person. He’s an inspiration on so many levels. So the fact that he was totally amenable to playing with us and has become an indelible part of our thing is great. Nasheet had been checking out the recordings he’d done with his dad, and if I’m not mistaken Oliver hadn’t played the tune in awhile. He became a very pronounced voice in this phase of what we’re doing.
So we can expect to hear a lot from The End of Fear at Duke Performances?
Yeah, well . . . in spirit! [Laughs] No, we’ll be doing stuff from that, from the first record, and we actually have two records coming out soon, one entitled The Ballad of Sam Langford and one called The Fanon Project. That’s a tribute to Frantz Fanon. They’re coming out really close to one another; we’re in the process of figuring out the release date and the final edits now.
Tarbaby (with Oliver Lake) performs at the Casbah on Friday, March 1 and Saturday, March 2. Visit the show’s dP webpage for tickets and more information.