Monday, July 4, 2011

Craig Taborn, Avenging Angel

“I learned to write
I learned to write
what might be read
on nights like this
by one like me”
-Leonard Cohen, “The only poem”

The Cohen above has been a motto and a signpost for me since I first discovered it my Freshman year of high school and it was the first thing that came to mind while listening to the new Craig Taborn solo record on ECM, Avenging Angel.  It’s a blistering July day where even walking home from lunch will drain and drench you.  I sat down to do some writing and listen to Avenging Angel, and after a draft of a poem what I really want to do is tell somebody how gorgeous this record is.  My real life friends thank you for your indulgence because it’s sparing them – or at least buying them a short reprieve.

In a way I associate with most ECM records but ever so slightly askew, this record is a crisp, clear recording of a beautiful haze.  The first track, “The Broad Day King”, strings melodic cells together along a rhythm that acquires depth and brings volume to the tune through a combination of a strong left hand and deep spaces.   It’s a tune that feels like a day very much like this one. 

Much of the record is very modern pastorals.  “Broad Day King”, which we discussed in the last paragraph.  “Diamond Turning Dream” with its jagged mirror-shard melody.  “A Difficult Thing Said Simply”, maybe my favorite song on the record, with a remarkably apt title; a clear melody that stops and stretches the notes out, this Merce Cunningham dance over and among tall pikes, and then slumps into a meditative state, a glowing repetition.

The other tracks – and this is a wild oversimplification – feel like an abstraction of older jazz tradition, a Willem De Kooning or Franz Kline take on technique that’s such a part of the genre of a solo piano record that in most cases seems rarely questioned, only used or not used.  The one-two punch of “Spirit Hard Knock” followed by “Neither-Nor”  illustrates this, with the first sounding like a Cecil Taylor piece laid over a Bud Powell, that swinging intensity belied by the fact that its swinging in multiple directions and on different axes all at the same time, and the second Art Tatum with a roll of quarters in his fist when you’re not looking.  “Gift Horse – Over the Water” plays with Meredith Monk and Jaki Byard with those seemingly off-kilter rhythms that both add up to a whole that makes sense and makes the tune even catchier and even more swinging.  The closing track, “Forgetful”, feels like a take on film noir cocktail piano, the kind of thing Sinatra could’ve sung over but it never would’ve occurred to him.

I was already a Taborn fan, going back to college when I heard him on Tim Berne’s Shell Game, Bill Laswell’s Dub Chamber, and a couple of James Carter records (it took me a while to realize the same guy was on these wildly different records I loved for such different reasons), but this gave me such a new appreciation for what he does as a composer and an improviser.  There’s so much music here I’ll be digging into it for a long, long time.