Craig Taborn: Junk Magic (2004)
Following his 2001 recording Light Made Lighter , keyboardist Craig Taborn returns with Junk Magic, a new recording that places him squarely in the 21st century, maybe even the 22nd. With a combination of sounds that incorporates techno, laptop electronics, shifting drum programming, ambient music and free jazz, Taborn creates a sound that is difficult to pigeonhole; the diverse elements coalesce into a fresh new texture, making this an early highlight of 2004. Unlike his previous album, which was mistakenly labelled jazztronica, Junk Magic moves Taborn firmly into that territory with an album that is daring in scope and approach.
Joined by Mat Maneri on viola and Aaron Stewart on tenor saxophone, the timbres are rich and low; there are no shrill sounds to jar the ear on this recording, although there are plenty of contrasting ideas to leave the listener unsettled. On the title track, Taborn layers a multitude of polyrhythms over an almost minimalist motif; on "Mystero" the rhythms shift constantly; on "The Golden Age" Maneri's multi-tracked violas along with Taborn's keyboards create a trance-like ambience. This album is as much influenced by Brian Eno as it is by Steve Reich; and while the techno elements are clear, they have been integrated into something altogether different; the free jazz element places this in a wholly different space than any of its roots.
Drummer David King of the Bad Plus has worked with Taborn before over the years, and he understands his vision. Creating everything from strong rhythmic pulses on 'Prismatica' and the short "Stalagmite," to creating multi-layered irregular meters on "Mystero," his processed sound lends certain grounding to what could otherwise be a much more ethereal affair.
Eschewing electronic keyboards for one track, "Bodies At Rest And In Motion" returns to the acoustic territory of Light Made Lighter , but this time Taborn's acoustic piano is freed from the constraints of a rhythm section; the freest track on the album, Maneri and Stewart join Taborn in a loose exchange that is barely anchored by the drum programming and King's experimental verve. Even when exploring free territory, however, the group demonstrates a restraint that keeps things focused and somehow unified with the more structured segments; what is unique about the whole recording, in fact, is how free improvisation is somehow layered over structured passages, creating a tension, a push-pull feeling that always keeps the listener on his/her toes.
Like Kurt Rosenwinkel's more mainstream Heartcore , Taborn manages to merge a number of source ideas into a fresh approach that is stunning in its modernity. There is nothing of this recording that looks backwards; while there are certainly traditions that have helped place Taborn to where he is today, they are so subsumed as to be completely invisible; Junk Magic is a recording that truly moves things forward, creating a new language, a new vernacular.
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Track Listing: Junk Magic, Mystero, Shining Through, Prismatica, Bodies At Rest And In Motion, Stalagmite, The Golden Age.
Personnel: Craig Taborn: piano, keyboards, programming; Mat Maneri: viola; Aaron Stewart: tenor saxophone; David King: drums.