Junk Magic

Craig Taborn

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Junk Magic Review

by Thom Jurek

After his tenure with James Carter, many in the stuffed-shirt, ultraconservative world of "mainstream" (not commercial, just boring) neo-and-post-bop societal misanthropes known as jazz purists, had hoped pianist/composer Craig Taborn would become the next supplicant to the past with his virtuosity and taste. Curses, foiled again. On Junk Magic, his second date for Thirsty Ear's glorious Blue Series, Taborn, armed with his piano, laptop, and techno and breakbeat pedigrees, makes jazz just another part of marginal pop culture as it endures, changes, and mutates. For Taborn, jazz is not an elitist, detached, academic, celebration of all things dead and gone. For him, history is in the making, not in the gnashing of teeth over its passing. Recruiting tenor saxophonist Aaron Stewart, drummer David King, and violist and mictrotonal improviser Mat Maneri, Taborn shapes an entirely new aesthetic; in so doing, he fulfills Blue Series curator Matthew Shipp's mission statement "to make it all new." On the title track, which opens the disk, there are the skittering beats as they layer themselves over off-kilter drum machine pyrotechnics and a looped piano phrase. Also there is the angular, haunted beauty of "Mystero." Here, Maneri's otherworldly phrasing introduces first Stewart's melody, punctuated by a loop of King's trap kit textured by lilting synth chords, before a shimmering piano melody skirts through backdoor, and the saxophonist solos before creating a repetitive phrase with viola and keys. "Shining Through," is an exercise in dimensional ambience and near-serial classicism, while "Prismatica" offers trace elements of funk, free jazz, and in-the-pocket groove via Stewart's punched up legato phrasing. "Bodies at Rest and in Motion," which is steeped in the blues and late-night, knotty, melodic atmospherics of Thelonious Monk's "'Round About Midnight," is easily the most moving and beautiful track on the set. "Stalagmite" is an over the top exercise in abstract electronic jazz that "swings" with teetering, clattering, industrial strength by the ensemble, though not, admittedly one that would be recognized within conventional (again, yawn) perception. The final track on the disc is a moody piece of subterranean tonal studies led by Maneri's viola playing around a melodic idea without engaging it, and Taborn maneuvering his macrotonal, multivalent keyboards through and around it. It is a whispering intro that opens out onto a truly visionary landscape that the ensemble takes to an entirely different place before slithering out into the ether. Junk Magic is a stunner from start to finish, and one that challenges the notions and linguistic senses as to what jazz "is," as well as what it is not.

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