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Friday, September 9, 2011

The many moods of Craig Taborn

Posted By on 09.09.11 at 02:54 PM

Craig Taborn
  • Craig Taborn
Remarkable New York pianist Craig Taborn is in town this weekend for a trio performance with drummer Gerald Cleaver and Danish reedist Lotte Anker on Sunday at the Hungry Brain. Taborn touched on the making of his excellent solo album, Avenging Angel (ECM), in a discussion with Chicago keyboardist Rob Clearfield in this week's paper, but he didn't talk about the actual music much.

The record is only Taborn's fourth as a leader, and it's also his first solo recording. One of the things that's so special about him is his range, and Avenging Angel carves out new space—he's never made music quite like this before. It's sparse, meditative, and somber, and as Clearfield mentions, there's a strong contemporary-classical feel to many of the 13 pieces, mostly in the austerity of his phrasing (a la Erik Satie, but with less sentimentality). But the rhythmic force of the title track and the fitful motivic development of "Neverland" make it clear that Taborn is a jazzer through and through. (Below you can listen to the latter track.) It's a wonderful album—one of the best solo piano recordings I've heard in the past few years—and it represents only a small fraction of Taborn's full diapason.

His skills and range have made him an in-demand sideman, not only for his brilliance on acoustic piano but for his mastery of the Fender Rhodes (which is what he mostly plays in Chris Potter's Underground) and various synthesizers (which he used to stunning effect on his 2004 album Junk Magic). So Taborn has already turned up on a raft of fine albums this year, including David Binney's Graylen Epicenter, Shane Endsley's Then the Other, and Alex Sipiagin's Destinations Unknown. Still, I think his best collaborative effort so far in 2011 is Out of This World's Distortions (Aum Fidelity), the second album from Farmers by Nature, a collaborative trio with Cleaver and bassist William Parker.

All three players have worked together in various configurations over the years, and they've obviously formed deep, intuitive connections. The trio recorded the album on June 24 of last year, one day after Chicago saxophonist Fred Anderson died. In his liner notes Cleaver underlines Anderson's influence by writing, "We spent some time talking about how much we love and respect the man and his work, and then we set out to improvise." The opening piece turned out to be the appropriately serene "For Fred Anderson." From there the proceedings grow more extroverted, angular, raucous, and hard-hitting, but the performances never dissolve into pure energy music—there's a clear logic, and a series of shifting through-lines that gives each of the pieces a crisp sense of movement and progression. It's a cliche that good improvised music doesn't sound improvised, but it more than applies here. You can listen to a track below.

Craig Taborn, "Neverland"

Farmers by Nature, "Cutting's Gait"

photo: Rue Sakayama

Today's playlist:

Joe Cuba Sextet, Estamos Haciendo Algo Bien! (Tico/Fania)
AMM, Sounding Music (Matchless)
Dennis Bovell, Decibel: More Cuts and Dubs 1976-1983 (Pressure Sounds)
Bill Withers, +'Justments (Reel Music/Sussex)
ES, Kesämaan Lapset (Fonal)

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