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Craig Taborn: Rooted

By Published: June 15, 2009
AAJ: You know William Parker and Gerald Cleaver very well. Can you tell us what it's like to play with them and what their strengths are as musicians?

CT: The biggest thing for me with both of those guys is that they are so rooted, and what I mean by that is that they truly have a connection know, I hate using the word tradition because it's hackneyed and such a jazz related thing, and it carries a weight I don't mean and it loses a weight that I actually do. I would say that they are both rooted in the essence of what all of that music is about when they play. They both bring the weight of everybody who has played before and all the implications of that, almost in a metaphysical sense. Before anything instrumental, technical or even musical, it's just deep playing with them. They're coming from such a deep place. You can feel the ground, you can feel the connection to everything, and it doesn't feel like they've really had to learn it, or build it up over time. It's just something that's really strong within them. That's what I get out of both of them.

And with that, you just get this wealth of playing experience, that's connected to that. There's so much history that they have with playing music in a variety of contexts and with a lot of different people and that comes out really clearly. The decision making then becomes very effortless. There's an ease in listening and responding without having to force any details.

AAJ: When you guys are playing together, how much of your communication is visual?

CT: I think, very little. When we were recording that, I don't remember anything visual; I don't think I looked. I'm sure there were times I glanced up. And that's not lack of attention. I just think everybody goes inward to go outward, if that makes any sense. We're not a visually cueing type of ensemble. I don't think any of us really play that way. It's much more closed eyes and listening.

It's intensely interactive and there's a lot of communication, but I don't think very much of it is visual; on my part, almost none of it. There's actually a video tape of that gig too, and I've seen it and I'm not looking at anything. [laughs] I don't think anyone is really looking too much. I've played with Gerald for 20 years and with William for 10, and I just don't think any of us is that kind of player.

AAJ: Tell us a little about the choice of title for the CD, Farmers by Nature.

CT: It largely comes from Gerald, so he's a better person to talk to fully about the inspiration. He came up with it and it was agreed upon. I think it's related to what I was talking about before, as literal as it may seem—that rooted connection to essential things and that agricultural bit is part of it. There was an awareness before we got together to play the first time that the strength of the ensemble would be that we'd all approach music that way, from, for lack of a better word, a much earthier place. Essentially, where the music is coming from is that it's organic; it's nurtured from trying to tap into the root essence of ourselves and really pulling from that.

There are other groups I play with where there may be more artifice, not to say that it is totally artificial, but there may be concepts or a different level of design that exists on top of it. This is pretty earthy stuff and it was intended that way, without even talking about it. That's why we wanted to get together and do that ensemble (even though we all played in many groups and some of them with similar instrumentation) you know, as a place to go and fully dwell in that organic, raw state and try to create from that.

Craig TabornAAJ: Subsistence farming, the concept which Gerald Cleaver compared to, is incredibly arduous, back-breaking work. Just how demanding, how draining is sowing and reaping your own improvised musical harvest?

CT: With this particular ensemble, I would say it requires a lot. I mean, I pull a lot out of myself when I play this music. I can say I try to do that all the time. I really go in as far as I can go when I'm playing, and there's a lot of exertion going on. But it isn't exhausting because it's a nourishing musical environment, so I find I tap into endless reservoirs of creativity and vitality, which isn't always the case. In some contexts that I played in I can easily get spent, and it's not like they're bad. I go in and kind of wring it all out, every ounce of it, and then it's gone. And when it's done you're sort of done and you go home and you're exhausted for a while.

But with this, even though I'm wringing so much out of it I don't run out of either energy or ideas. I think that has something to do with the musicians and the context, and the idea of the context, which is that we're tapping into that root source. There's a lot being spent but I tap into a wellspring that never really runs out.

AAJ: The music on Farmers By Nature clocks in at just over an hour, which seems like a long time to continuously improvise. Did you decide to play until you had said all you could, or did you have a time frame in mind and say: "Let's see what we can do in an hour"?

CT: It's a performance. [laughs] How long is a performance? We had an hour or something to play, so it was constrained by that. I don't know if we'd had no specific limit if we would have gone on longer. Saying that, I think that's the amount of time it took that music to be made. We knew it was going to be around an hour but also it just seemed the right amount. We said what we wanted to say in that time, for that evening. I remember when we played it felt: "Okay, we're done now."

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