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Jazz Notes: Keyboardist Craig Taborn Makes a Rare Village Vanguard Appearance to Deliver His New ECM Recording

By Dan Ouellette, Senior Editor ZEALnyc, February 23, 2017

The best jazz is the music that’s embedded with surprise. That’s the modus operandi of pianist/keyboardist Craig Taborn who’s going to be making only his second six-night showcase at Village Vanguard in his career that stretches back over two decades, beginning as a recording leader with his 1994 debut Craig Taborn Trio on the DIW label. He’s a brilliant surrealistic pianist who is also a bold explorer of the electronic side of the keys, from a Farfisa compact electron organ to a Prophet 6 analog synthesizer. It all comes from his background of classical piano studies and his love of jazz, rock, electronic rock, punk and metal music. On his brand-new ECM Records album, Daylight Ghosts, Taborn plays pensive, playful, mysterious, searching, rollicking tunes, many of which feature an electronic edge, from synthesizer loops to electronic drumpads. “To listen to it and get a close experience with it,” he says, “you really have to crank up the volume on a good sound system and get lost in it. You definitely have to put yourself in that sound world.”

As for his absence from the Vanguard, Taborn—who books his own shows in the U.S. while he uses an agent in Europe where he tours more—says that he’s just too busy with his own group as well as sideman duties with the likes of bassist icon Dave Holland. “The only time I played the Vanguard as a leader was in 2012,” he says. “They’ve asked me back, but I’m always booked up. I’m always too busy. So finally about a year ago the stars aligned and I knew I could play during this week.” So last June, he let ECM Records owner Manfred Eicher that he wanted to record his new album—and third for the label—so that it could be released around the same time as his week-long engagement.

Playing the piano, electronic organ and synthesizer at the date, Taborn will be joined by his band mates from Daylight Ghosts, comprising saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed, acoustic/electric bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Dave King. Expect the unexpected, he promises. “It’s a compact group,” he says. “This allows us to move sonically, moving quickly from acoustic straightahead to the computer/electronic music that sounds like music from the ’60s and ’70s. I can use a transistor organ to can get that cheesy sound of the Doors to the early electric Miles Davis music like Keith Jarrett using a Yamaha transistor organ on In a Silent Way. And of course, there was always Sun Ra playing a weird organ. It was the sound of psychedelic rock from the times as well as Afro-funk. Even Philip Glass used transistor organs to make his first loops.

Taborn says there’s definitely a chamber-like vibe on the recording. But live? Try raucous in pockets. “It moves into different places,” he says. “But it’s also fully improvisational.” He cites the album’s opening tune “The Shining One,” a pensive yet whimsical number with pianistic scrambles and tumbles, rumbling tenor saxophone and tumultuous drumming. “There’s a lot of high spirit in this one,” he says.”You an hear the personality of the group come alive. There’s a playful camaraderie with a lot of confidence but nothing too serious. We can play gnarly or beautiful on it. The album is one thing, but live it’ll be all about how the guys feel that evening. There are so many possibilities.”

Soft-spoken, Taborn talks about synth loops on a tune like “Phantom Ratio” (“don’t even ask me what that means…”) that is reminiscent of a ’70s Tangerine Dream electronics soundtrack. “I love stuff like that,” he says. “You can play austere but also place next to that raw, messy, organic shapes of sound. I like hearing that dirty sound of analog synthesizer music from the late ’70 and early ’80s.”

In its essence, the music Taborn delivers are exercises in storytelling. “I do see myself as a storyteller,” he says. “The compositions are narrations. The notes are characters and [determine] where they go. I’m aware of how things move through time, so I do function as a narrator. A song has to have a theme, then we work on that to see what unfolds.”

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Cover: (l. to r.) Chris Speed, Dave King, Chris Lightcap, Craig Taborn; photo: © Bart Babinski / ECM Records.


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