Craig Taborn: A Study in Contrasts

Tom Greenland By

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Jonathon Haffner
Life On Wednesday
Cachuma Records

Lotte Anker
Floating Islands

Craig Taborn's seemingly innocuous musings have a way of sneaking up on you, revealing, upon closer listening, surprising density and intensity; two recent releases feature the empathetic yet independent keyboardist's complex musical mien.

Alto saxophonist Jonathon Haffner's Life on Wednesday, with Taborn, guitarist Wayne Krantz, bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummers Jochen Rueckert and Kenny Wollesen, is a layered, rock-inflected outing. The arrangements are tight and succinct, the tunes both catchy and intelligent. While Haffner is the guiding visionary, he is a democratic leader, leaving space in his compositions. The set is a mix of ballads and rockers, laced with two pensive solo sax soliloquies and a longer, exploratory centerpiece. Krantz' twangy, slightly flanged guitar is propelled by the dense duo drumming while Taborn thickens the texture in creative ways: on "Time Time" his chimey Wurlitzer is enhanced by ring modulator effects and gong-like pads; on "Radio One" acoustic and electric tones blend in a polyphonic soundscape; "New Mexico" contains slowly ascending octave trills over gentle chords and a minimalist coda; on "Formigas" his broad-ranging palette of metallic patches and echoed decays imitates a one-man Ellington band; "Maybe Mexico" spatters raindrop notes across the piano followed by deep woody tones and the meandering solo on "New Year" gropes along, extending melodic tendrils in both directions simultaneously before finding its form.

Floating Islands is a live trio date recorded in Copenhagen, with Taborn, Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker and drummer extraordinaire Gerald Cleaver. The third release by this highly cohesive coterie continues their more-is-less aesthetic, where musical meanings must be inferred from reading between the (improvised) lines. Like Taborn, Anker, shifting between tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, is a study in contrasts, a lyrical and understated skronker, lightly atmospheric or full of sound and fury, leading as she follows. Her ideas spin out slowly, poring over details. Cleaver embodies disciplined freedom, often implying more by what he leaves out, finally letting loose with snare rolls and rim-shots at the end of the long opening suite. Taborn begins with restraint, plodding out slowly modulating chords on the title track, segueing to dense clusters and half-held, Monk-esque chords on "Ritual," building to an improvised fugue ending "Transitory Blossom." He climaxes on "Backwards River," his attacks becoming staccato and didactic, building in both registers simultaneously, relenting finally on the closing track to pluck subdued low tones from inside the piano box.

Tracks & Personnel

Life On Wednesday

Tracks: Time Time; Radio One; New Mexico; Western Wren (The Bird Call); Formigas; Big Wheel; Tuesday Night Danny; Freewheel; Wednesday Night Firsts; Maybe Mexico; New Year.

Personnel: Jonathon Haffner: alto saxophone, clarinet; Craig Taborn: piano, Wurlitzer, electronics; Wayne Krantz: guitar; Elvind Opsvik: upright bass, electric bass; Jochen Rueckert & Kenny Wollesen: drums.

Floating Islands

Tracks: Floating; Ritual; Transitory Blossom; Backwards River; Even Today I Am Still Arriving.

Personnel: Lotte Anker: soprano, alto, & tenor saxophones; Craig Taborn: piano; Gerald Cleaver: drums.


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