Karen Borca

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The number of full-time bassoonists who've played free jazz at the highest level can be counted on the fingers of one hand -- maybe one finger. Outside of Karen Borca, it's difficult to name another (Makanda…
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The number of full-time bassoonists who've played free jazz at the highest level can be counted on the fingers of one hand -- maybe one finger. Outside of Karen Borca, it's difficult to name another (Makanda Ken McIntyre played bassoon occasionally, but it was not his best instrument). The dearth of jazz bassoonists is hardly surprising, given the difficulty of the horn; it may seem like an elongated oboe, but the bassoon is actually an instrument with a sometimes puzzling technique all its own. Borca is best known for her work as a member of the Cecil Taylor Unit. Her husband, the late alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, happened to be Taylor's most enduring musical partner, but the excellence of Borca's playing made questions of nepotism irrelevant. Borca has an impressive facility; she plays with the litheness and imagination of a first-rate free jazz saxophonist. Besides her work with Taylor, Borca also played in Lyons' bands until his death in 1986. In subsequent years she became a fixture on New York's Lower East Side free jazz scene, playing in bands with bassist William Parker, saxophonist Marco Eneidi, and drummer Jackson Krall (all, it should be noted, Taylor sidemen at one point or another). Borca has also led her own band, most notably at a Lyons tribute concert during the 1998 Vision Festival in New York City.