Taborn Showcases Versatility During Three-Part Concert
Enigmatic keyboardist Craig Taborn led a celebratory concert of his music in three parts at the Walker Art Center in his hometown of Minneapolis on April 26.
Taborn performed improvised solo-piano pieces, got reacquainted with his Junk Magic band and stretched out with his trio. For more than two hours, the captivated audience at the Walker Arts Center’s McGuire Theater was invited into Taborn’s musical world, where a rhythmic search for freedom unfolded. (Fans also listened to a live broadcast of the concert on the Twin Cities’ KFAI radio station.)
Taborn’s robust musicality lent itself well to the theater’s acoustics, and his musical versatility (free-jazz, improv-electronics and synth-funk) was matched by the diversity of audience members young and old.
With Taborn in a conductor’s role, the concert presented an impressive array of moods. Sounding as clear as crystalline Caribbean waters, Taborn painted lavish pictures with his solo performance, crafting pieces that were exciting, insightful mini-essays of virtuosity.
There were moments when Taborn seemed to channel his earliest and most central musical influence, pianist Cecil Taylor, as he displayed strength, courage, resilience and leadership with an ultra-modern flair. At other times, his light, airy touch coaxed sounds of ecstasy out of his instrument.
The momentum continued with Junk Magic, featuring Taborn on piano and keyboards, viola player Mat Maneri, The Bad Plus drummer Dave King (who appears on the Junk Magic album), bassist Eric Fratzke of Happy Apple and tenor saxophonist Chris Speed. Taborn and his collaborators offered a fresh take on Junk Magic, a pioneering foray into jazz electronica that was released on the Thirsty Ear label in 2004.
Taborn, ever the risk-taker, made good use of his unique approach to phrasing. The telepathic interplay between all the musicians was mind-blowing, and King’s wildly adventurous navigation of his kit, in particular, was a wonder to watch.
After a brief intermission, the program shifted gears as bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver joined Taborn for songs featured on the new album Chants (ECM), including the standout “Beat The Ground.” The trio’s encore was a regal rendition of “Love In Outer Space” by Sun Ra.
As a sideman, Taborn has recently played with saxophonist Chris Potter as well as flutist Nicole Mitchell, among others. He’s also known for his work with high-profile bandleaders James Carter, Dave Douglas and Tim Berne. But lately, he’s gone from playing with some of the most exciting virtuosos in contemporary music to being an acclaimed leader himself.
Exiting the theater, one concertgoer said to another, “It takes you a couple of years of music theory to get that.” Tell that to the capacity crowd who had bobbed their heads and leaned attentively forward through most of the night, and chances are they would heartily disagree.