Taborn:An Improv Pro.
Taborn is a Jazz Electronic-Acoustic musician that offered a slice of his Solo Debut Album “Avenging Angel” at Baltimore’s An Die Musik on the 16th of June. The powerful piano acoustic concert left the packed auditorium mesmerized and riveted and two long standing ovations.
Before the concert, he was with Examiner Reporter answering a few questions about his influences, preparation and feelings about his new ECM album.
Taborn’s music emerged in Detroit while studying liberal arts at the University of Michigan in the 1990’s. He played with bands and started to meet people with whom he would play in bands and finally end up in New York City-Jazz Mecca of the World. Yet, his musical beginnings took place in his birthplace and childhood home in Minneapolis where his exposure to Music was thanks to his father’s passion for piano and guitar.
“ My father played by ear and had all kinds of jazz and blues collections. That was the beginning. I always heard the piano or guitar in the house. He is a psychologist and he played for his own enjoyment. That was always in the house. It gave me a sense that you could always do it for your own enjoyment. At a young age, when I started taking lessons, I always had an example of someone who played the piano for pure enjoyment and when I was taught in my lessons to think that you had to play a certain way, when I thought of my father, I knew that that was not necessarily true”. He added:
“It made me approach lessons with a sense of joy and something that I am doing for me. It was not about lacking discipline it was a different sense of what it was for. It was more enjoyable. Music was for enjoyment and personal gratification”.
Other sources of early influences were the Minneapolis Hennepin County library.
“Someone in that library (pauses) was really cool”.
He added that:
“ There were these sections of classical, jazz and then really new avant-garde collections of electronic music and I always used to find myself in that section at age 13. It was Vinyl and the cool thing was to look at the labels and designs, open them and read the poetry or diagrams in and outside the covers. I used to take 20 records at a time, because that was the limit and used to listen to them for weeks”.
The visits from Tim Berne to Minneapolis was also a new experience for Taborn.
“He gave me a totally different perspective. I think he hadn’t played anywhere else in the US besides Minneapolis, so I was really lucky”.
Roscoe Mitchell, Prince, Punk Rock, The Replacements, Amphetamine Records, Yellow Flies, Vibrant scene,Walker Art Center,Tim Berne, Rivo, Impro Org, Bill Carrothers, Joe Pearl and a lot of people who he grew up with ;who are now members of famous band The Bad Plus were influential in his creativity.
A sense of freedom is what this artist transmits in his recordings and in his personality. Yet that freedom does not mean lack of discipline. When Taborn sits on a Piano bench he plays like his life depends on it. His physical posture and body are wrapped in the music and the piano and his powerful arms are proof of his hard work. One can also see that there is definitely a certain discipline and process that he has developed that works for him. When asked how the album (recorded in Lugano, Switzerland)came about he mentions that:
“The album is an improvised album. In a way, I was not working on it. I did not have anything prepared. I have been playing improvised piano at New York City clubs for 8 years with an Acoustic Piano as a soloist. I focus on doing it a certain way. Try to develop pieces from very small bits of information. So, if I sit down to improvise something, I will limit myself to a few elements. Just these 6 notes and a lot of space. I give myself a framework or some kind of restriction. And then see how much, I can milk out of that. As long as it is musical, if it is not working, I will leave it. My ultimate goal is to make it something musical and enjoyable for the audience. The process has been developing for the last 8 years”.
He added that after talking with Manfred Eicher (ECM Manager) for the last 2 years about doing an album, they agreed that his music was ripe enough to document.
“Eventually we decided on a Solo. It was perfect. I had developed a concept”.
The sense of not wanting to rush anything, make his work truthful and honest.
Craig Taborn is also part of a Jazz Trio Band with bassist Thomas Morgan and Drummer Gerald Cleaver . They all live in New York City and have plans to record an album together, but as Taborn mentioned “ It is very rare to find us all in town at the same time and with Eicher in town too”.
This musician who only took a couple of music lessons at University, is also best known for his electronic work, his work with a Moog Synthesizer and improvisational style are unique. He has played in European festivals such as Sonar and toured in European cities. He explained his technique and methodology.
“For a lot of improvisers, Improvisation is a meditative state in itself. It takes a lot of time to develop that. It is also a state of mind. It is really improvised. I don’t know what I am going to play in a concert. Often the lifestyle around these concerts does not allow to meditate. I have just traveled on the train, checked into the hotel and came straight to An Die Musik to check the piano and deal with technical stuff. Ideally it would be lovely to sit and meditate, but time does not allow it. It is about being able to access this state. A lot of musicians in general, is about being able to access it. It is able to turn it on, like a switch. It is something that you develop, a habit. Something shifts. I am not distracted. It comes from doing it over and over again”.
The biggest shift for this Electro Jazz Musician is not that he has recorded an acoustic album, because “I play acoustic music all the time. The biggest shift has been playing solo”.
When asked how this affected him musically he answered:
“It is a challenge to have no one to rely on for ideas. It is a fun challenge. It is cool because any idea I have is unfettered by any one else and it is a plus and a minus, especially for improvisation. In a group, if you have no ideas, you can pick up ideas from other people. But in a Solo if you have no ideas, you have yourself to rely on. It is a challenge because you have yourself to develop your own musicianship”.
As this musician explains with his clear voice, concise words and hand gestures what he is thinking, a fan on the green room is oscillating from side to side and providing a cool breeze, which he observes and appreciates. This prompted to ask what inspired him
“Part of the trick of it, is to be open to all sources of inspiration at any given moment. You can appreciate almost everything. The aesthetics of an environment, a book you have read,a painting you saw. Someone sitting in the audience, a concept you have in your head or just a melody. The more you develop your ability and appreciate all sorts of things in the world, the more inspiration you can draw on when you are improvising. If you are not listening to anything. If you have nothing exciting going on aesthetically in your world, then it can be a lot harder to get ideas and have ideas to inspire you to improvise on the piano. I try to stay as active and open as possible. Because when you sit down, if you are open. Even this fan can evoke and trigger something. There is no one answer. It can be anything specific, to something musical, which I use. I think of 3 notes and start to develop that. But it can be extra musical, from the breeze from a fan or even the rhythm of its movement. These are just examples. It can be anything under the moon or sun. It can be available at all times. If you are tuned into your environment and tuned into yourself. There is always inspiration there. But the trick is to be able to tap in to it. That is not always easy. Also, there is another way of improvisation which is I will let any kind of inspiration and let it take me wherever it will. I decided to do it differently by focusing on an idea I have on my head and developing it, in a way to limit the world of possibilities”.
His new Solo Album is delicate, sensitive and engaging. When complemented, his humbleness shined through and added:
“I feel good about it. Improvisation is a risk factor, which is what I like about improvisation. Given all the circumstances around it, it was amazing how it all came together. It is one of those projects where it could have turned horribly wrong. I can’t believe how much fun it was. I am happy with what is documented”.
Craig Taborn is in demand in New York City, which he clarifies by stating that what it means is that:
“The way jazz and the improvised musical world works, saying that you are in demand in New York, it means that you are touring a lot. New York is the gateway to traveling a lot. Musicians in New York, go everywhere”.
Therefore, when asked why he is successful, he paused, reflected a few seconds and responded:
“I feel successful, because I get to play music I like with interesting musicians. But I don’t know why. A lot of people get to do that. I think it is the benefit of being part of a vital community of musicians. New York gets a lot of attention because it is the Capital city of Capitalism. New York has certain access to the rest of the world, that sometimes, if you are in other cities, you don’t get the chance to go on these international tours”.
His CD Release Tour took him to London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and ended in New York City with Baltimore in between. He is now going to go on a National and International tour with the Michael Formaneck Quartert Tour.