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Music Review: Craig Taborn – Avenging Angel

Craig Taborn is an exceptional pianist who has recorded with a number of major jazz artists, most recently as part of Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory band on the Far Side album. Although Taborn has been actively recording since the early 1990s, Avenging Angel is his first unaccompanied solo effort. The recording was done in the exceptional acoustics of the recital room at Lugano’s Studio RSI, with Manfred Eicher producing, and features a wide range of improvisational styles.

Avenging Angel opens with “The Broad Day King,” and the unadorned beauty of Taborn’s playing is striking. The contemplative nature of the piece makes for a marvelous introduction to this very personal album. “The Broad Day King” has a very serene feel about it, and one would be excused for momentarily wondering if they had put on a George Winston disc rather than Craig Taborn.

That impression is nullified with the very next track, “Glossolalia.” The title is a reference to speaking in tongues, in which believers claim is their deity speaking directly through them – albeit in a way that nobody can understand. If that is the case, then Taborn’s muse is decidedly avant-garde. “Glossolalia” continuously takes the listener down unexpected avenues, something only the greatest of improvisers are able to consistently do.

For the most part the 13 tracks that make up Avenging Angel rotate between these two styles, the quiet semi-New Age feel, and a more experimental, and often aggressive sound. The title track is a good example of Taborn combining both approaches. As the song opens, we are presented with relatively pastoral tones. Midway through, Taborn’s left hand begins a descending run down the keys that repeatedly draws us into a much more aggressive arena. “Avenging Angel” is a memorable cut.

The curiously titled “True Life Near” is the most hypnotic track on the album, and a personal favorite. “A Difficult Thing Said Simply” is another spellbinder, very much in the mold of “True Life Near.” There is a sort of majestic cocktail-jazz feel to “Forgetful,” which serves as a reminder of how long Craig Taborn has been a professional musician, and of the many places he must have played over the years.

“This Is How You Disappear” is the album’s final track, and if nothing else it is a testament to how creative Mr.Taborn can be in titling his improvisations. Actually this is another remarkable mini-composition, which sends us off in a winning manner.

As the current holder of Downbeat’s Rising Star award for his playing, Craig Taborn is a force to be reckoned with in jazz. But as Avenging Angel shows, his improvisational prowess is not limited to jazz at all. He is in fact a master of many different styles, and his many improvisational guises can be heard on this very intriguing new release.

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