Craig Taborn: Compass Confusion

John Sharpe By

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Craig Taborn: Compass Confusion
Although a peerless pianist, Craig Taborn has been captivated by electronics since the age of 12, and he scratches that itch big-time on Compass Confusion. The role of post-production treatments in the creation of jazz records has a long history, from Orrin Keepnews piecing together the issued version of Thelonious Monk's 1956 classic "Brilliant Corners" from among 24 takes of the tune, to Miles Davis and Teo Macero forging masterpieces like Bitches Brew (CBS, 1970) from studio jams. Taborn's ethos is closer to the last. While it might cause the purist's hackles to rise, it's all a part of a continuum between live music and digital production.

Taborn first gave full expression to his affinity for electronic sound design on Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear, 2004), a title he now uses for the outfit assembled here, comprising violist Mat Maneri, reedman Chris Speed, drummer Dave King and bassist Erik Fratzke. Of those, the first three were also on board for the earlier date, while Speed and King also make up half the band responsible for Taborn's last release under his own name Daylight Ghosts (ECM, 2017). But in truth, the group membership is less important than the way Taborn manipulates their output using studio wizardry to construct each track.

Taborn brings a raft of influences, from minimalism to musique concrète, ambient, hip hop, krautrock, fusion and improv to bear on seven cuts which break down into a mix of impressionistic and rhythmic, and all flavors between. The opening explosion of plugged-in shimmer, drum machine and stabbing riffs on "Laser Beaming Hearts" recalls Black Market-era Weather Report, though minus the poppy hooks. What's striking is how the improvising sensibility at work in other areas of Taborn's oeuvre manifests here, as he keeps piling new layers of sound one atop the other, recalling his style on piano in the multiplicity of interlocking, overlapping and juxtaposing lines he generates.

Instrumental sources show most overtly on "The Science of Why the Devil Smells like Sulfur," once the doomy lumbering chords set up a suitably diabolic atmosphere, as drums jitter, acoustic piano ripples and Maneri's microtonal viola slithers. Elsewhere many of the results are cinematic in scope. The glacial drift and cavernous menace on "The Night Land," suggests the soundtrack to a ghost movie, while on the mysterious "Dream and Guess" keening viola and muffled voices evoke the feeling of grasping at something on the edge of memory. Taborn closes the program with the suitably valedictory "Sunsets Forever," as slow mutating viola angles over ethereal organ swells.

Although not the place to seek improvising smarts, Taborn conjures an imaginative amalgam of novel textures, shifting rhythms and unexpected switchbacks to stake his claim in what is a rich tradition.

Track Listing

Laser Beaming Hearts; Dream and Guess; Compass Confusion; The Science of Why the Devil Smells like Sulfur; The Night Land; Sargasso; Sunsets Forever.


Craig Taborn: piano; Chris Speed: saxophone; Mat Maneri: viola; Erik Fratzke: bass; Dave King: drums.

Album information

Title: Compass Confusion | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Pyroclastic Records

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