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Craig Taborn

Craig Taborn is an award-winning pianist, bandleader, and sideman. His technical skills, intellectual curiosity, and stylistic versatility have earned him collaborations with a range of recognized masters in contemporary jazz. From his professional debut with the James Carter Quartet as a student, Taborn branched out to include synthesizers and organ, and subsequently drew many musicians into his orbit. His distinctive style -- as evidenced by his ECM debut, Avenging Angel, in 2011 -- is informed by jazz masters of the instrument from Duke Ellington and Cecil Taylor to Thelonious Monk, Ran Blake, and Sun Ra. His approach to polyrhythmic invention and expansive harmonic reach -- the latter counterintuitively expressed with a judicious use of economy -- is always focused; he refuses to draw attention to himself. 2017's Daylight Ghosts (one of three albums under his name that year) revealed Taborn's aesthetic interests, from free-leaning group improvisations to ruminative chamber pieces and languid soundscapes in a quartet setting. Two years later, he and Vijay Iyer released Transitory Poems for ECM from a live recital. Taborn collaborated with the Steve Lehman Trio for The People I Love, and in 2020 issued Octopus, from a live 2016 duet with pianist Kris Davis. The following year, he digitally released 60 x Sixty, 60 one-minute-long pieces meant to be played in any order in an hour. ECM released the live Shadow Plays, an improvised recital recorded at Vienna’s Konzerthaus, in March 2020. In his hometown of Minneapolis, Taborn studied piano, composition, and music theory with area university professors before attending the University of Michigan. Before graduating, he joined the James Carter Quartet and played on three of its albums. After graduating with a liberal arts degree in 1995, DIW released Taborn's first leader date, The Craig Taborn Trio. He then moved to N.Y.C., and by the close of the '90s had performed on two more Carter releases, Roscoe Mitchell's 1999 ECM release Nine to Get Ready, Detroiter Carl Craig's techno-jazz project Innerzone Orchestra, and Hugh Ragin's Afternoon in Harlem. Taborn's second album, Light Made Lighter, was a piano trio date for Thirsty Ear in 2001. Over the next decade, Taborn became one of the most in-demand musicians in New York. Although his time with James Carter would come to a close, the Roscoe Mitchell and Hugh Ragin projects continued and Taborn formed another longstanding collaboration with Tim Berne. He also played in projects for Drew Gress, Chris Potter, Dave Douglas, and Mat Maneri on the jazz side, as well as serving as a hired gun for Bill Laswell and Meat Beat Manifesto. In 2004, he issued Junk Magic on the Thirsty Ear label, turning away from the traditional piano trio and incorporating all kinds of electronic elements. Junk Magic is now generally recognized as a watershed album of jazz and electronica. The late 2000s saw continued work with Berne in a number of groups (including with David Torn) and albums for David Binney, Eivind Opsvik, and old college bandmate Gerald Cleaver. In 2007, he made an album with fellow Minnesotans Dave King (Bad Plus, Happy Apple) and Greg Norton (Hüsker Dü) as Gang Font. His involvement on a number of ECM releases at the close of the decade (David Torn, Roscoe Mitchell, Evan Parker, and Michael Formanek) caught the ear of Manfred Eicher, and Taborn was signed to ECM. His first album of solo piano, Avenging Angel, was released in 2011. That same year he, bassist William Parker, and Cleaver formed a trio called Farmers by Nature and recorded Out of This World's Distortions for AUM Fidelity. Chants, Taborn's second album for ECM, was released in April 2013. He then joined saxophonist Chris Potter's Underground Orchestra for 2015's Imaginary Cities, followed a year later by drummer Ches Smith's The Bell. Also in 2016, Taborn delivered Flaga: The Book of Angels, Vol. 27 on John Zorn's Tzadik Records with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. In 2017, the pianist returned with his third ECM release, the quartet effort Daylight Ghosts, featuring saxophonist Chris Speed, bassist Chris Lightcap, and drummer Dave King. Taborn and pianist Vijay Iyer both played in Roscoe Mitchell's Note Factory for 2002's Song for My Sister on Pi Recordings, and worked with Mitchell separately afterwards. In 2018, they teamed for a live improvised concert performance in Budapest at the Franz Liszt Recital Hall, improvising while paying tribute to influential figures who had recently passed away, including Cecil Taylor, Geri Allen, and Muhal Richard Abrams. The unedited concert was issued by ECM in March 2019 as The Transitory Poems. In August, Taborn was billed as a featured collaborator with the Steve Lehman Trio (expanding them to a quartet) on their acclaimed Pi Recordings release The People I Love. That fall, Intakt issued The Golden Valley Is Now, a "supergroup" electro-acoustic recording that placed Taborn in a collective with bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King of Bad Plus. His relationship with the pair dated to 1982 and their hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It marked the first time they'd actually recorded together. The shorter tunes were composed by either Anderson or King, with the notion of a balanced whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. In 2020, Taborn and pianist Kris Davis saw the release of Octopus on Pyroclastic Records. The set was drawn from three live duo performance in 2016. In September 2021, Taborn digitally released the free recording 60 x Sixty, a collection of 60 one-minute electronic compositions designed to be performed or steamed in any order over the course of an hour. In October, ECM released Shadow Plays, the document of a 2020 fully improvised live solo recital recorded at Vienna's Konzerthaus.
© Joslyn Layne & Sean Westergaard /TiVo


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