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Craig Taborn: Suggesting Textural Dimension

Phil DiPietro By

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AAJ: It occurs to me that the ingredients to this aesthetic you're trying to achieve would only be found in the New York 'Downtown' scene.

CT: The demographic favors this area but I think, everywhere I go, there's always somebody there. I think the difference is that it's not always supported. There's not a rarefaction of that quality in all these scenes. You have to be a force of one to really make it happen somewhere. Again, if you take the Happy Apple guys . The stuff is amazing, but' they're definitely there for each other, and that's a real test of your creative wherewithal'to make something like that happen in your own environment and create or generate your own scene. There's a lot of creativity everywhere but it's just having that tenacity to stick it out and start developing and saying, 'I am going to make this happen here.' I see it in different towns a lot. When you're in New York, there are so many people trying to do that stuff it's actually easier to find people to play your music. Whereas I know firsthand that living in other places, it's not that easy.

AAJ: Can you tell us your ideas around the electric, or electronic concept? Do you think the community will see it as the next step in the NuBop, Equilibrium, DJ Spooky, Spring Heel Jack thing or will that, of course, be too easy?

CT: It'll be too easy. Probably because knowing those other records my thing will have little to do with the approach those guys took. I have a different awareness of what the electronic thing than what they were dealing with.

AAJ: More organic?

CT: It might be more organic on a level but then again, maybe not on another..it's hard to say.I mean I've just done electronic stuff for so long and had a certain interaction with the electronic music world that they're from. So I think my thing'there are things that will dovetail but I think my idea of it is a little different. Their thing is kind of breakbeat oriented. It has kind of an ambient thing and then kind of a hip-hop thing or whatever. In a certain sense, hip-hop as a certain kind of a breakbeat, and that may not be what I do. I don't really think of electronic music as necessarily embodied by coming out of 1990's urban youth culture. I see it in a broader sense. In jazz alone I can trace it to the 50s. There's a long tradition of electric, maybe not electronic, stuff. If you start talking about Rhodes or electric piano you've got to go back there. If you start talking about organ things that aren't Hammond B-3, you have to go back to Sun Ra at that time. There are some other immediate early references that kids are dealing with in electronic music now.

In jazz, it's really nothing new. It starts with Sun Ra's use of electric piano whether it be prototype Wurlys or Rhodes, as well as his use of electric bass. In a large sense his music concepts, in terms of things that are sort of Afro-derived. Certain bass ostinatos that electric bass is playing, repetitive figures on the drums, layered drumming, backbeats, dub tempos or funk tempos, a backbeat with a bass line that's repeating-all that stuff is there-the template of it. If you talk about specific technologies, you can start narrowing it down, which is what a lot of people mean these days when they talk about a beat-it means a sampled beat-but I don't really think of beats that way. What's old what's not? What's new about a beat? In that context'.

AAJ: That leads to the usual influences question' if you want to get into that.

CT: That gets deep'I have a lot of influences.

AAJ: And Sun Ra's a big one?

CT: For a number of things, and there's a lot of other ones. That's not to say I don't like'there's a number of hip-hop people and techno people who I'm very enamored of and there's a lot of things that have developed in terms of conception and process there. I just identify it as part of a larger'so'

AAJ: Well, I've read you were heavily influenced by Sun Ra and the AACM as a young man. Hard to imagine a teenager, say 15 to 20 years ago, being influenced by those musics'it's a wonderful thing.

CT: More and more there's a scene of young people influenced by those things. I think when I was a kid in the 80's it was weirder (laughs) than now, especially in Minnesota, but it was the public library there.

AAJ: It was great that you felt all that. I sense we're done with influences.

CT: It gets to be too much. Not a cop out, just a lot of stuff. In terms of current or past stuff, I buy stuff across the timeline, as it were.

AAJ: Can you point us to some of what you feel is your better/best stuff on record that's been commercially released? Personally, I'd highly recommend 'Bodies We Came Out Of,' which is the first and last song on the Light Made Lighter. Just absolutely deft, fast, playing over the whole instrument with wide and close angular intervals.

CT: Well, yes. That and the two Tim Berne releases. I really like the new Mat Maneri thing . I just really like Maneri's music whether I'm on it or not! (laughs) The Roscoe discs..the ECM thing and the new one, called Song for My Sister on PI Recordings.

AAJ: So what's coming up this year after the Susie Ibarra tour?

CT: The Tim tour . I've been talking to Dave Binney about possible gigging.

AAJ: You're not on the latest Binney record, are you?

CT: No, but I do like that record and I have played with him. Maybe a Marty Ehrlich tour. The Drew Gress gigs we've done have been great.

AAJ: Are you going to undertake your own thing? Are you already out there as being available for solo gigs or solo tours?

CT: The answer to your question is yes I'm going to do it and the reason you haven't seen it is I haven't yet. I just get going on these other projects and it's been exciting playing with a lot of different people.

AAJ: I think it's fantastic that you're a big piece of so many things because you're presence is felt so heavily in just anything you choose to participate in. Is this second record a big part of the solo gigging equation?

CT: I think it will be this year. I think I want to get more stuff going, to play with these guys. It's in the cards. I keep getting sidetracked as I get called for people's projects. When I get calls from people, and take the work, I like to really engage with their concept musically. To an extent, that takes me out of my own creative space in a certain way. I don't like to go in halfway. The nature of some of the things I get called for is pretty intense. Like next month when I do this Tim tour, he's got like, ten new pieces. I'll learn that and I really just sort of go into the frame of mind needed to play his music. So with all of them - Dave Douglas, Roscoe, Marty Ehrlich or Drew - I try to do that. It's like, 'OK. I'm in this now.' That also conspires to keep my thing on hold. What happens is, I've been keeping it on hold for a little while now. I intend to get that together. It's time for me to do that with my band.

AAJ: It must take some doing. For example, I'd ask Gerald Cleaver the same question. Imagine trying to tour that band. Every guy in the band has a band, or two bands!

CT: Right. It's easier than it seems in a certain sense. If Gerald really wanted to get that going it wouldn't be that hard. Except maybe for Reid, who really has the Bad Plus thing going now. I would defer. I'd drop of a lot of stuff to go play with Gerald, not only because we go back so far, just musically too - I'd just do it. It's never as hard as it seems.

AAJ: It's almost like you've got to stay part of Tim's thing, for instance.

CT: Yeah, but everybody works around everybody. That's the thing when you see these communities - it's never that competitive - people will look out for each other - everybody understands and works around each other's projects to the extent that they can.

AAJ: I noticed Cleaver's record took, like a day. Tim seems like a guy that would take more time. Is that true?

CT: Well, he wanted to, but no. Both records wound up taking two days-like live in the studio.

AAJ: Was your thing a one-day thing?

CT: Yeah. Well, at Thirsty Ear the budgets are of a certain nature.

AAJ: I've noticed the Thirsty Ear pieces that I have are all kind of short.

CT: That's part of their thing. It's actually part of their concept. If you notice, Shell Game is longer, but that's because Tim's going to do what he's going to do. But in general they encourage 40 to 45 minutes. It's a concept. It's not budgetary. It's like vinyl, which had to be 45, you know. They're into the idea of not filling up the cd space because it's there to fill up, so'that was definitely part of their earlier stuff and it's sort of stuck. On the other hand, if you came in with something longer, I'm sure it would be all right.

AAJ: Anything else to expect coming up?

CT: Well, Marty Ehrlich's thing will be coming out on Palmetto.

AAJ: Any definite plans for more from Roscoe?

CT: Nothing definite, but he's always planning something. He may record in the next year, but I'm not sure.

AAJ: Are we going to see an Internet presence from you?

CT: That's a good question. I've been thinking about that and a number of my friends have encouraged it. It's so easily done these days and a good place to have a source of information

AAJ: Finally, are you happy with the way the music business is treating you?

CT: If you take it over into that, the music business with a capital M and a capital B, you're opening up a whole can of worms. I don't think we have time for that. I'll say this. I think that there's a lot of good music that's not getting a fair shake because of the obvious ethos that's been there for a long time that's at it's height again, as it were.

AAJ: I think that Bad Plus record is a great example. Debut on independent label-nobody heard it despite some fantastic reviews. Record two- all of a sudden reviews are everywhere prior to the record release date!

CT: Yeah, they have the weight of the thing behind them. Same guys, same playing. And that's great for those guys. I just wish that more attention'that things could happen for' just a little bit' some other projects where it's non-existent. I'm not even talking about hype, just a little bit of whatever it takes to help musicians get their stuff out there and help it develop.

If you're interested in filling out Craig's back story even more, allow us to suggest an equally scrupulous, but older, interview with Craig, by Nate Chinen, on-line at Tim Berne's Screwgun Records website.

Photo Credit
Claudio Casanova

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