Craig Taborn Trio: Chants (ECM 2326)


Craig Taborn Trio

Craig Taborn piano
Thomas Morgan double bass
Gerald Cleaver drums
Recorded June 2012 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Assistant engineer: Charlie Kramsky
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The Craig Taborn Trio is a metronome with a soul. For its debut release, Chants, the pianist’s fearless group carves a niche and fills it with so much creative spirit that no one but the listener can squeeze in for a spell. The album defines a repertoire, extracting from one of the most enviable rhythm sections in the business an elixir for surefire engagement. Bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver know what Taborn is all about. They are never add-ons but are fully immersed atoms in his molecular goings on, nearly a decade in the forming. And if the syncopation of “Saints” is any indication, theirs is an aliveness of unity rare to hear. As in so many of the tracks that follow, there is a winding, slightly off-kilter feeling to its jaggedness. Taborn and Cleaver leave an especially consonant series of markings at the outset, each the half of a poker deck perfectly Farrowed to the tune of Morgan’s deal. The bassist works alone “In Chant,” enacting no mere solo per se but a living tendon between wholes. In those wholes contrasts abound. “Beat The Ground” evokes the blurred foliage of a running warrior’s peripheral vision. His weapons trickle down from the sky in care packages of godly insight, inspiring pulse-driven spirals into resonant fade. The feeling of resolution is as visceral as it is fragile. “Hot Blood,” on the other hand, is as cool as can be. It opens a city’s worth of brainwashed minds and, while flurried, keeps its inner flame in smooth focus.

Taborn Trio

From the tectonic instability of its intro, “All True Night / Future Perfect” congeals like so much stardust. Its evolving Spirograph is toothed with miniscule variations, which though unapparent to the naked eye scream to the naked ear. Like a dislocated joint these connections remain encased in the body proper, hanging in lieu of locomotion. “Cracking Hearts” opens with a scattering of cobwebs from Cleaver before the trio rummages through everything in its attic, upturning memories that were never theirs to begin with yet which ring familiarly. More important than artifacts are the “Silver Ghosts” who haunt the rafters. Theirs is a ponderous song, an ephemeral dotted line of footprints in the dark, conducted by the wings of a trapped and frightened bat. “Silver Days Or Love” clears out the windows, drawing pointillist glyphs by Taborn’s right hand over a steady imprinting of chords from his left. A strangely enchanting bass solo, host to a network of internal gatherings, gives soil to Taborn’s sprigs of blossom. Only when they “Speak The Name” do clouds begin to open their pores to the firmament’s pale blue love.

While the music of Chants is certainly profound, it is, more simply, found. It is as if it had been wandering for countless years in the corners of our minds, each motif a determined mouse waiting for just the right cheese to tantalize its palate. Taborn never lets the intensity of this indulgence overwhelm. He knows just when to turn down the dial, lest the circuit break and leave us altogether unreceptive to signals. His brilliance is all in the music. Rather than go from A to B, he is content going from Q to R, clothing himself in the orbits of another planetary system that operates by its own gravitational and chemical rules. The chant, then, becomes a de-normalizing impulse, a light in the telescope that renders us in our darkest hour strangers even to ourselves.

There is glory and praise in these movements, sacrifice and self-reflection, pockets of expectation filled to bursting with illusions. As in the surgical discoveries of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, geometry is paramount, the lifeblood of all orbit. If the Keith Jarrett Trio revitalized the standard, Taborn and his allies have set one.

(To hear samples of Chants, click here, or watch the promo video below.)

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