Craig Taborn: Suggesting Textural Dimension
Craig Taborn has distinguished himself through his work, some of it nothing short of groundbreaking, with some of the most important musicians in New York's "Downtown" scene. His contributions during parallel careers with Mat Maneri, Drew Gress, Marty Ehrlich, Gerald Cleaver, Dave Douglas' Witness project, and Tim Berne's Hard Cell and Science Friction Units, has been thrillingly spontaneous yet organic, accomplished yet somehow ephemeral. Craig possesses that trait so valued by listeners and leaders alike (and sometimes not, by the less self-assured of them) throughout the history of the music; that is, they find themselves pointing their ears towards him throughout recordings and performances to find out what remarkable phrase, color, texture or idea he's going to come up with- invent even- next.
One of the fruits of his labors has been recognition by the forward- hearing ears of one Matthew Shipp, curator of Thirsty Ear's Blue Series, who facilitated the recording and release of Craig's cutting-edge acoustic piano trio project, Light Made Lighter in 2001, to critical acclaim across the spectrum of the jazz community. Craig's knack for multi-level, textural thinking, both in composition and execution, reveals itself to the listener in acoustic, electric and electronic settings and should continue to place him at the very center of modern jazz reinvention for many years to come.
Our recent conversation caught him just prior to taking to the road for a European tour with drummer Susie Ibarra's trio. It also catches him on the initial thrust of his creative effort towards his next offering for your Thirsty Ears; an electric record, which, if his past efforts in the genre are any remote indication, should go a long way towards propelling Craig's intensifying star into a new orbit.
All About Jazz: So you're from Minneapolis originally, and started playing quite young?
Craig Taborn: Not that young, really. When I was about twelve.
AAJ: Pretty serious pretty fast?
CT: Well, in terms of improvising and playing jazz, I knew I was interested in doing that.
AAJ: I read you started off playing electronic keyboards and acoustic piano at the same time.
CT: Yeah. My parents got me a Moog, sort of right away as a Christmas present. So I was exploring that.
AAJ: I was interested to read you grew up with Reid Anderson and Dave King .
CT: Yeah, we were from the same neighborhood
AAJ: I am a fan of yourself, Happy Apple , The Bad Plus and Reid Anderson's recording The Vastness of Space and was surprised to find out you all came up in Minneapolis. You must have had a good jazz program in the schools or something was going on with the water there.
CT: It definitely wasn't a jazz program. I don't think any of us...there was no institutional thing, we just all kinda got into music at the same time. That's sort of how we knew each other. It was more because we were all playing. We would have been at the same high school, but I went to a private school. Dave went to an arts track at this other public high school. It was the same social scene effectively.
AAJ: Well, not to belabor the connection but you have such a unique playing and composing style and Dave's thing is so slamming and so different and Reid is such a great new composer- it's just amazing the sort of common lack of influences you guys display if you ask me. You're all just really new voices.
CT: That's nice to hear. I think coming up where we did and how we did and having the influence of each other was a piece of that, just because we all listened to a lot of different sorts of musics. We didn't have the concept of a specific scene or a specific place we were trying to fit into. We were making it up as we went along in terms of what even playing music was or improvising or anything. We all went different ways during the college years but we all kinda went with that and all came out sort of different. Definitely, individualism was part of the concept - finding your own way to do certain things.
AAJ: After that I read you landed at UMichigan and almost immediately hooked up with Gerald Cleaver, right?
CT: Yeah he is one of the first people I met there.
AAJ: I thought Gerald's record was one of the best of last year, and just a total all-star team there. The way you guys are hearing each other-the listener can hear you hearing each other. It seems like there's so much time between the notes and you're all interacting with each other just so full-on.
AAJ: Let's talk about that transition to UMichigan.
CT: I was looking for somewhere with a music program, even though I ended up not availing myself of the program there. My original idea was to go into a liberal arts thing and eventually get into a composition program but I never did. I went to Ann Arbor because there was some interesting stuff going on there, especially with the composition faculty, and it was close to Detroit, and that was always my goal, to have someplace where I could have some access to a jazz community, in an urban sense, and also study.