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Craig Taborn Trio: Columbus, Ohio April 27, 2013

Mark Corroto By

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Craig Taborn Trio
Wexner Center For The Arts
Columbus, Ohio
April 27, 2013

Traveling to support the release of Chants (ECM, 2013), pianist Craig Taborn's Trio, with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver, made an appearance at The Ohio State University's Wexner Center for The Arts. As label head/producer Manfred Eicher's artists are want to do, this mini-tour—a nine-city North American swing—followed a similar nine-city European jaunt.

The pianist stood at the microphone telling his audience, "I tend not to talk too much; I like to put the energy in the music. So that may be all I say. Okay, let's play." Taborn's trio, a working band these last eight years, proceeded to play mostly pieces from Chants, its one and only recording.

Opening with "Beat the Ground" the pianist gently explored note patterns as Cleaver rattled sticks and a small bell. The trio's trance-inducing music drew abstractions into structures. As he did throughout the night, Taborn maintained repeated patterns of notes that stuttered with surges of momentum, while Morgan introduced melody. As the bassist worked in sync with the piano, designs appeared. With a nod of the pianist's head, mood shifted into a bluesy walk that soon shattered with angular abstractions. Taborn drew both from the jazz tradition and that of modern classical music, his concept resembling a slow motion, Cecil Taylor flurry of notes pierced with a freezing heaviness for drama. At nearly 40 minutes before a pause for applause, the trio's language became apparent.

Its shared approach to music was one of equanimity and self-confidence. None of the players required their instrument to take up a traditional role. Cleaver, always the colorist, scraped cymbals and fiddled with sticks. The bassist played melody while Taborn favored hypnotic ringing note patterns. None of this was random or sounded like a freely improvised whim. Each note or gesture was in service of the composition.

Taborn first generated audiences' attention when he came to Columbus as saxophonist James Carter's pianist in the early 1990s. He has been featured in bassist Michael Formanek's quartet and reed multi-instrumentalist Roscoe Mitchell's Note Factory (both also with Cleaver). He also can be heard with Cleaver and bassist William Parker in the free improvising trio Farmers By Nature. His ability to incorporate electronics into jazz and then produce a singular solo improvised album like Avenging Angel (ECM, 2011) makes him a man for all seasons.

When the trio played a quiet ballad, the audience collectively leaned in to listen. Taborn caressed the piano's insides and Cleaver dusted his kit with brushes. Each musician produced so few notes that the creak of the piano's pedals also became music. As the intensity increased, Taborn's left hand and Morgan's bass played in unison. Taborn's repeated left hand patterns were often played as if he were a Philip K. Dick replicant: not a machine, but also not quite an earthling. With each reiteration, the piano sounded both like an LP skipping and electronica. From these intoxicating patterns he was able to jump into melody or alter the pattern's structure slightly for effect. The complex rhythms were juxtaposed nicely against the free sections.

The trio's encore harkened back to bebop pianist Bud Powell and his quicksilver music. The piano was a piano, the bass a bass, and Cleaver took his first swinging solo of the night. Taborn's unorthodox take on bebop was as dynamic as his new explorations into sound.

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