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Craig Taborn: Rooted

Ian Patterson By

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The more someone is willing to face the possibility of failure, the more one is able to learn how to surmount that...and that's what makes real improvisers, I think - a fortitude.
There is no place for fear or doubt in pianist Craig Taborn's playing—such states are banished from a mind that seeks to explore the musical possibilities of each moment with maximum freedom. Taborn's improvisational playing is a continual creation where the journey is the thing, and words like beautiful, ugly and mistake have virtually no meaning. True improvisers like Taborn, with the ability to take the leap into the unknown, have always been a fairly rare breed.

From early collaborations with James Carter, Taborn has gone on to work in a wide variety of settings, from acoustic trios to electronic and techno. He has played with some of the most innovative musicians around, such as Roscoe Mitchell, Bill Laswell, David Torn, David Binney and Lotte Anker, to name but a handful. In whatever setting he appears, Taborn leaves an indelible mark.

In recent times, Taborn has hooked up with long-time associates and two of the more elemental forces in creative music today—bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver. In such empathetic company, Taborn can be heard at his most daring. On Farmers by Nature (AUM, 2009), an hour-long live improvisation of intense trio interplay, the lines of leading and comping are so thoroughly intertwined as to be indistinguishable. It is a collaborative improvisation which stems from a deep musical knowledge and a deeper shared understanding, and it is a music which takes the listener into the eye of the storm.

All About Jazz: Yourself, Gerald Cleaver and William Parker have played a lot together in various settings. It must have seemed very natural to finally make a recording together just the three of you, no?

Craig Taborn: Yeah, absolutely. It was selfishness on my part; I just really wanted to play with those guys. [laughs]

AAJ: How much discussion or preparation did you have before the concert at The Stone which produced the hour of improvisation which came out as Farmers by Nature?

CT: None at all, basically. [laughs]

AAJ: So you just said: "Hey guys, see you at the gig. Don't forget your instrument"?

CT: [laughs] Yeah, that's about it. There was no worry about that. It was exciting to see what would occur, if that makes sense. There was truly no talk about what we were going to do.

AAJ: Was knowing that the gig was being recorded in any way intimidating for you?

CT: No, it wasn't. The recording was just something that Gerald thought to do, and we had John Rosenberg come in and record it, although at the time of the gig the intention wasn't necessarily to make a CD for distribution. It was just to document what we were going to do just because we were excited about playing, so there was no pressure. It wasn't consciously a recording session in that sense. We wanted to get a good document of it.

AAJ: On the subject of documenting gigs, where do you stand on audience bootleg recordings?

CT: Well, I have a complicated relationship to that actually, because I've certainly benefited as a listener and as a musician from hearing a number of bootleg recordings, so from that perspective I don't really have a problem with it. At the same time, there's a certain respect that should be paid to the artist creating the music. Maybe it shouldn't be done without their knowledge, and then if they prefer for any reason not to have it documented then you probably shouldn't.

The financial aspects of it are an issue as well. There was a time when people were really making money off bootlegs. There were guys in Eastern Europe who would bootleg a concert and then make a CD that looked better than an official release, and they were making money, taking all this money off of somebody. That, I'm definitely opposed to. But in terms of people just documenting gigs, I think it's nice when people let you know they're doing it, and it's nice when people ask, and it's nice when they respect an artist when they say: "Hey, you know, I'd rather you not do it."

AAJ: Farmers by Nature is a very democratic-sounding recording, everybody is leading and everybody is supporting all at the same time. Was that a very conscious decision or was it a natural evolution?

CT: I think it's a very natural part of how we play. For my part, as a pianist, there's a tradition of piano trios where the piano is the lead, and I absolutely don't want to do that; it's a little daunting, it's a little tiring and it's much more interesting for me to try and function in an ensemble context with that particular instrumentation. I definitely don't want to be the piano solo voice with a rhythm section behind me, especially with those guys, because they are often generating more interesting information at the time.

For my part, and I think for all of us, we are improvising together and it's largely personalities, so the instrumentation is almost secondary in a way. It was more I played with William and Gerald. The bass, drums and piano was just circumstantial. It's more about the personalities, the musicians; if William had come in with a recorder, we would have played.

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