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Craig Taborn: Junk Magic

Phil DiPietro By

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Craig Taborn
Junk Magic
Thirsty Ear
2004

Craig Taborn has consistently tugged thirsty ears his way in the ensembles of high profile leaders Dave Douglas, Tim Berne and James Carter. His work has been so remarkable that some very big expectations have ensued. Here, Taborn pulls off the trick of living up to them all, while, to those of us who have been following along, serving up virtually none within the music itself.

Light Made Lighter presented Taborn's version of the futuristic piano trio concept, in his own words "staying true to certain conventions, discard[ing] others..." exploiting the ensemble identity by creative use of space and dimension. Taborn's first electric record is energizingly convention-free, yet it's also free of the new-millenium Rhodes work he's exhibited with Hard Cell , or the spooky booty-shaking organ we've heard with Carter or Gerald Cleaver .

It's as though Taborn has self-edited his obvious first couple of electric records, leap-frogging even himself. Here, he's recruited three participants of equally staggering futuristic potential: Bad Plus drummer and fellow Minneapole Dave King, legato microtonal violist Mat Maneri, and the voracious young tenorist Aaron Stewart, whose stunning efforts with Fieldwork foreshadow his work here.

Taborn's music, the sound itself , is so virulent with enigma, it becomes impossible not to follow along. So it is that we track the apparently endless counterpoint of Rhodes triads, viola and sax that begins "Junk Magic" and become confronted with the first of many looped beats that are vague in origin. Where Taborn's sequences end and King's work begins is often indistinguishable and soon rendered inconsequential. The redundancy in the foremost loops yields only rewards in the subtleties of the piece's evolution.

I'd suggest "Mystero" as the sample track from the disc. The soundscape is bony and gaunt, eerily exquisite, with King's loops propelled by dub synth-bass, Maneri's wraithlike phrasing prompting Stewart's unison. King bashes through as synth pads penetrate a disturbing chaos, a glistening electric piano rejoinder signaling a second theme stated by unison sax and viola (which provide a surprisingly comfortable texture in combination). Say it with me, people: Tension-Comma-Release.

Taborn has pulled us through thus far as rapt automatons, thinking this is some new jazztronica aesthetic growing further out of the Blue Series manifesto. More rewards await, rich and replete. "Shining Through," suggests textural dimension, a nirvana-inducing combination of Enoesque ambient leanings combined with truly modern serial classicism, complete with big bells. Remember, Taborn attended UMichigan because its faculty included prize-winning contemporary composers William Bolcom and William Albright . Sure, he's a bitchin' keyboard player, but how many leaders show they can completely jettison the "chops" side of their persona and still move us so deeply?

Back to the big expectations- the disc comes with a sticker quoting CMJ-"Craig Taborn-the Future of Jazz." While Thisty Ear may be setting itself up for a bit of backlash concerning that bold statement, I'll vouch for its accuracy. Perhaps more precise, though, to have placed an exclamation point after the word "Future."


Tracks: 1. Junk Magic,2. Mystero, 3. Shining Through, 4.Prismatica,5. Bodies in Rest and in Motion, 6. Stalagmite, 7. The Golden Age

Personnel: Craig Taborn-piano, keyboards, samples, Aaron Stewart-tenor saxophone, Mat Maneri - viola, David King- drums


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