Multi-keyboardist, programmer and composer Craig Taborn’s newest album is a bold, decisive, inspired and fantastic recording that makes an imperative statement about the direction jazz could go in this, the era of acceptance of Miles Davis’ electric experiments that are now 3 decades old. If there was any justice in this world Taborn would be signed to a major label, performing at all of the major jazz festivals and other artists would be clamoring for his abilities as a side-musician on their recordings. As this is not a fair world we are fortunate the Thirsty Ear label has allowed Matthew Shipp to sign cutting-edge artists, like Taborn, to the company’s Blue Series.
Make no mistake about it, this recording is not for everyone, but if you long for music that challenges with a solid payoff for your work, are not afraid of a variety of electronics used within a compositional framework, have longed for the reemergence of significant counterpoint in jazz - no matter the manner in which it’s presented, and are looking for music that harkens back to jazz’s traditional values and not afraid of having those early values updated to 21st century means (does anybody remember that early jazz - Dixieland - was full of group improvisation) then this stellar recording is for you. Taborn, along with cohorts David King of The Bad Plus on drums, controversial microtonal "in-the-cracks" violist Mat Maneri and tenor saxophonist Aaron Stewart, has fashioned a recording that is fresh, animated and breathes life at every turn.
With a diverse background including stints with traditional and forward-thinking saxophonist James Carter, Tim Berne’s avant-garde groups and Carl Craig’s Detroit techno-workshop, Taborn has the solid background and credentials that have combined to make his work on this project solidly thoughtful, exciting and firmly planted in a true jazz spirit which is decisively "in the tradition."
From Junk Magic’s first layering of overlapping ostinati that meld into a techno-beat based over and upon the initial ostinato, to the shifting time stratums of Mystero, to the aleotoric analog inspired computerizations and computer-altered acoustic sounds that make up the contrapuntal lines of Shining Through, this recording just does not let up with the high level of inventiveness Taborn is able to achieve with his ensemble and compositional skill. From this extraordinary beginning, the stage is set for further investigations into how seemingly desperate elements are able to be combined with verve and intelligence into tightly constructed pieces. For example, while there are certainly elements of free, atonal jazz in Prismatica, it still swings like nobody’s business before the ensemble takes up a vamp actually placed in front of Taborn’s exciting keyboard solo.
Part of the unqualified success of this recording is Taborn’s ability to write to the strengths of the individual musicians. For example, while Maneri is usually too scattered in solos that lose their way on his releases as a leader, Taborn writes and creates situations where Maneri is free to express those avant-garde elements he excels at yet is confined into expressing those ideas in a tighter context. This works to Maneri’s advantage by making him really focus in on the heart of the matter. With respect to David King, Taborn allows him to play full-out, for which the drummer is well-known in his work with The Bad Plus, but only in selected bursts. The rest of the time Taborn makes King concentrate on expressing the inventive elements of his playing which were displayed in early Bad Plus gigs, but have been eclipsed lately. For Stewart, Taborn creates sonic palettes in which Stewart is able to weave his lines and play off his exceptional ability to adapt the color of his instrument to the situation at hand.
Please don’t make the mistake of missing this recording. Inventiveness of this magnitude is worthy of great attention.