Album review

Craig Taborn – ‘Shadow Plays’

Craig Taborn – Shadow Plays
(ECM 2693. CD review by John Stevenson)

Known for several decades as an adventurous sideman in the equally daring ensembles of saxophonists James Carter, Tim Berne, and Chris Potter, multi-keyboardist Craig Taborn has come into his own as a significant solo piano improviser.

Shadow Plays is Taborn’s sequel to the critically acclaimed Avenging Angel (also recorded on ECM). It is an astonishing live solo recital recorded in 2020 at Vienna’s Konzerthaus and a nod to the creative decision-making of label boss, Manfred Eicher.

Frequently touted as the heir-apparent to Keith Jarrett and his impromptu piano magic on the Sun Bear or Koln Concerts, Taborn’s alchemy may come across as a tad more calculated, but it is highly imaginative nonetheless.

The 51-year-old pianist sets the scene with the absorbing Bird Templars, punctuating the composition with fluttering avian trills and ominous voicings with his left hand. Discordia Concors is a study in contrapuntal shades and mixed meters as he negotiates the composition’s choppy terrain.

In Conspiracy of Things we encounter an inventive elan which is reminiscent of Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk at their barrelling best. The simple melodic theme in A Code with Spells contains engrossing amounts of tension and intrigue, mixing things up with hushed contemplation and impassioned pianistic eloquence.

All of the pieces are imbued with aspects of the restive tension of composers such as Béla Bartók, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Modest Mussorgsky.

The title track, weighing in at just under 19 minutes, serves as a good example of Taborn’s distillation of these influences and the clangorous percussiveness of avant garde pianist, Cecil Taylor.

After all, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven frequently entertained their audiences with spontaneous riffs on the themes they were developing – a facility which appears to be missing in much of today’s classical music pedagogy and performance.

On Shadow Plays Craig Taborn confirms the importance of improvisational prowess in the classical and jazz genres. This is a very fine album indeed.

LINK: Shadow Plays at UK Distributor Proper

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