Recording Date: July, 2010
For fans of Craig Taborn's electronics-oriented recorded work or for those who prefer his early trio records or his sideman appearances with James Carter, a solo acoustic piano recording on ECM might come as a bit of a surprise, but it shouldn't. Taborn's been playing solo shows for over a decade - most of them improvised - and it's that part of his musical character that displays itself on Avenging Angel. Taborn has always been interested in the language of the instrument itself, the possibilities of its tonalities, spaces, textures, echoes, etc. The 13 pieces here, recorded on a gorgeous Steinway piano in Lugano, Switzerland, elaborate magnificently on all of those notions and more, without sounding overly ponderous or studied. These pieces range widely; each has its own motivation, form, frame, and intention; each arrives at a different destination. "The Broad Day King" begins with quiet, even delicate high-register notes that resemble wind chimes in a gentle breeze, and is colored as it evolves by descending chord patterns with deliberate spatial elements to delineate them from that intro while extending its memory. The title track commences with mildly dissonant two- and three-note chords in the lower-middle register, playing a pulsing if syncopated rhythm as the right hand adds accents and contrapuntal voicings to create the appearance of a dual melody, though only one eventually emerges. "Gift Horse/Over the Water" asserts a series of scalar studies before dynamically raising its head and using jagged chords to move from one half of the tune to the other. "Spirit Hard Knock" commences by using sharply angled single-note improvisation before assembling a dreamy series of lyric phrases. Taborn's use of the instrument itself is quite physical: at times he plays ppp (where restrained force is employed to push on the key just enough to get a sound), while other notes or short segments employ Sforzando. The elliptical nature of "Forgetful" is the set's most beautiful and elliptical number, emerging from the ghostly trace of a lyric melody into a fully realized spherical one; despite its dynamic changes - which are gradual - it never surrenders its deliberate spaciousness where sound itself - the moments after single keys or chords are struck - lingers and holds momentarily, before others replace them. Avenging Angel is not an intellectual exercise, it is a major contribution to the actual language of the piano as an improvisational instrument: its 13 pieces feel like a suite: seamless, economical, original, and visionary.
All Music Guide
"Avenging Angel", a powerful, creative and rigorously uncompromising album, is the first unaccompanied solo disc in Craig Taborn's discography as well as the first ECM recording issued under his name. The album was recorded in the exceptional acoustic of the recital room at Lugano's Studio RSI, with Manfred Eicher producing.
The disc follows several distinguished 'sideman' appearances for ECM, including three Roscoe Mitchell albums - "Nine To Get Ready", "Composition / Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3" and the recent "Far Side" - as well as Michael Formanek's "The Rub and Spare Change", Evan Parker's "Boustrophedon" and David Torn's "Prezens". Taborn (born 1970) has been widely-valued for his resourcefulness as an improviser, in and out of the jazz tradition, since the early 1990s, when his work with saxophonist James Carter's groups drew the attention of musicians, press and listeners alike. His own groups have since explored a range of options, and he's also been at the forefront of experiments cross referencing jazz and electronics. In this regard his 2004 album "Junk Magic" (on the Thirsty Ear label), has been cited as a pioneering work, and Craig has repeatedly been voted #1 Rising Star Keyboardist in the DownBeat Critics Poll.
In the last few years, however, solo piano performance has become a priority for Craig Taborn. "If the areas of improvisation that I deal with are always 'compositional' in a certain sense, in this case a very focussed compositional approach is applied, rather than allowing a broader exploration to yield a result. Throughout this recording I'm honing in on specific details. The music is really improvised: I just start. But having started, I try to relate everything that happens, like the motivic or rhythmic and textural detail, to the initial ideas as closely as I can. In terms of my own playing I try to have things emerge from the musical material itself. And a lot of that can depend on the instrument, too [in Lugano, a Steinway D]: the sound of the piano itself and what it is generating. I'm interested in the history of piano music, certainly, but I'm not hearing the instrument quite in those terms. I'm experiencing it also as a pure sound source, very aware of the tones and the overtones and how the instrument is ringing. This music is not about 'transcending the piano' as much as it is about working with what is possible within it. "
Amongst the album's striking characteristics is the way in which Taborn balances density of sound-events and structural clarity. "I like transparency and I like the details to be clear. But I also like layering the sounds: I like a complex palette, multiple voices, multiple rhythms, but I also want to be able to discern things, including all the spectral details that come up. "
Craig Taborn is on tour in May in Europe and June in the US playing solo concerts in the spirit of "Avenging Angel". 2011 seems set to be a busy year for the pianist, and the solo concerts follow on from international touring activity with the Michael Formanek Quartet.