The title of this trio disc by Craig Taborn may summon up all kinds of ideas, but the one that definitely doesn't fit is lightweight. This is serious, creative, challenging music. Taborn built his reputation through a series of records dating back to '93 with James Carter's groups. Now Carter may be an experimentalist of sorts (especially when performing live), but Taborn has his own set of very personal ideas. On Light Made Lighter he lays them out in a wonderfully direct fashion, with intriguing results.
The other members of Taborn's trio this time around include drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Chris Lightcap, who went on record together as part of Joe Morris's quartet on At The Old Office. Anyone who can work with Morris has proven his ability to handle abstract ideas. Cleaver in particular deserves greater attention. These two players have a good sense of when, where, and how to support the pianistbut make no mistake, Light Made Lighter is Taborn all the way.
The pianist leads off with a pulsing vamp, accompanied by Cleaver's Latin-flavored rhythms. Gradually evolving away from his simple introduction, Taborn takes advantage of his tremendous dexterity. While keeping the vamp alive with one hand, he explores nooks and crannies all around the keyboard with the other: runs, ripples, and counterpoint pop up everywhere. As jazz improvisations go, this is a classic. What sets it apart is Taborn's ability to frame the theme within a constantly evolving backdropsort of like theme and variation all rolled into one.
And it sets the stage for the rest of the record. Whether the pieces be slow and melodic or fast and furious, Taborn takes advantage of this approach to craft conversations and progressions that lead to unexpected places. Like Matthew Shipp, he has developed a personal language on the piano that relies upon coordinated density to imply a higher logic. Even ballads rarely proceed without an implied harmony that defies simple categorization. (And this disc offers a nice balance between soft and hard.)
Light Made Lighter showcases Taborn's skills in the context of two other master improvisers, and it represents a welcome step away from the fetters of traditionalism. If Taborn continues along these lines, he will most definitely carve out a substantial personal niche in the free improv community. His music is literate, articulate, and energetic. Keep your ears open for more of this sort of thing from Taborn: Light Made Lighter should open the doors for a lot of new ears to this artist's fresh talent.
Personnel: Craig Taborn: piano; Chris Lightcap: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.