Pianist Craig Taborn finds new ways to adapt while remaining true to his erudite, curious aesthetic | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Pianist Craig Taborn finds new ways to adapt while remaining true to his erudite, curious aesthetic 

click to enlarge Craig Taborn

Craig Taborn

Bill Douthart

Last month at the Winter Jazzfest in New York I saw keyboardist Craig Taborn share his deep love of heavy metal as a member of drummer Dan Weiss’s new Starebaby project—laying down fierce drones and doomesque power chords on synthesizer. At this point, nothing about Taborn ever surprises me—he’s got incredibly broad tastes, and he routinely follows his curiosity down all sorts of holes without ever surrendering his erudite, thoughtful approach or his ability to fit within any ensemble. Last year he brought out the best in electronic musician Ikue Mori, shadowing and strengthening the liquid eddies and drips of her laptop improvisations on their duo album Highsmith (Tzadik). Earlier in the year he released a quartet album of his own hall-of-mirrors compositions, Daylight Ghosts (ECM). On it, he leads his agile collaborators—reedist Chris Speed, bassist Chris Lightcap, and drummer Dave King—through dense thickets of harmony on contemplative balladry like the title track, pensive 20th-century classical music-informed melodies like “The Great Silence,” and corkscrewing, visceral rhythmic attacks such as those on the slowly building, then convulsive “Ancient.” Most recently he appears on Octopus (Pyroclastic), a series of deeply interactive duets with fellow pianist Kris Davis. On Davis’s “Chatterbox” both keyboardists’ rapid-fire chords create thrilling unstable harmonies that sound like a cross between a Conlon Nancarrow player-piano piece and a sped-up stride-piano workout. A reading of Carla Bley’s “Sing Me Softly of the Blues” balances the tune’s lyric tenderness with feverish activity; though the pianists pile up notes they never get in the way of one another. The concert, part of the long-running Contempo series, includes a solo performance by Taborn that complements the works by Marta Ptaszyńska, Augusta Read Thomas, and Reena Esmail performed by Imani Winds and Ensemble Dal Niente.   v

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