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Matthew Ruddick

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Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Saturday, 29 April 2017 00:05

Craig Taborn - Daylight Ghosts

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Reed and keyboard mix serves up nice slice of contemporary jazz.

US-based keyboardist Craig Taborn is equally at home touring and recording as a solo piano and electronic keyboard players, but for this, his eighth album, he draws on the power of group playing. It’s Taborn’s album, but it is the other players that shape the overall feel.

Daylight Ghosts jumps out of the blocks with first track The Shining One, which opens simply but then builds into higher energy playing as Taborn lets off the handbrake to uncork the creative power within his band: Chris Speed on tenor saxophone, Chris Lightcap on bass and Dave King - of The Bad Plus - on drums. The second track Abandoned Remainder, however, drops down two gears with a chamber music feel for the first two minutes before, again, Taborn steps on the gas and picks out some sinewy patterns with his right hand as Speed's sax burps in and out.

This album is on the ECM label and has a sound which feels suitably ECM-ish (the company motto is “The Most Beautiful Sound Next to Silence”). Much is made by Taborn of caesura and quieter moments - Daylight Ghosts particularly has an ethereal, sparse feel - in between which he propels some terrifically exciting improvisation over the core melodies. The playful, insistent piano phrasing six minutes into Ancient, over which Taborn and band build some complicated and spiky melodic improvisations, exemplifies what this album is all about.

Style wise, Taborn covers a lot of bases. There are ballads, some be-bop interplay with Speed on the saxophone, a touch of modern jazz-rock piano and some freer, more improvisational moments. Taborn's addition of electronic elements over the established jazz piano sound at points rounds off musical edges and makes this album’s sound stand out a little more than one might expect. For instance, on The Great Silence, which starts with the tautest of clarinet introductions from Chris Speed, Taborn introduces some keyboard underpinnings which, along with King’s shaken shells and light cymbal work, create a wonderfully atmospheric, winter woodland feel to the track. 

Few of the cuts on this album have dominant melodic themes that overpower the listener with their grandeur; rather, the melodic baton is passed from player to player, as different ideas are signalled, developed, passed, and new motifs bought into play. It has the feel at times of a musical collage, where all four players seem to be freed from constraint.

While I don’t think this album will be threatening the Grammy’s, nor competing for column inches with jazz superpowers like Chick Corea or Snarky Puppy, it showcases what great jazz players can do when they collaborate with open minds and ears to create contemporary jazz that is pulsing with life and musical abandon, but is also evolutionary in character. It is this forward, progressive approach which stops Daylight Ghosts being just another jazz piano album.

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