Craig Taborn is an award-winning, in-demand pianist as a soloist, bandleader, and a sideman. His technical skills, combined with intellectual curiosity and stylistic versatility, have earned him numerous opportunities to collaborate with a range of recognized masters in diverse styles of contemporary jazz. From his first professional date as pianist with the James Carter Quartet while still a student, Taborn branched out almost immediately to utilize synthesizers and organ in addition to his piano, and he drew many musicians into his orbit. Taborn's distinctive style — as evidenced by his ECM debut Avenging Angel in 2011 — is informed by jazz masters of the instrument from Duke Ellington and Cecil Taylor to Thelonious Monk, Ran Blake, and Sun Ra, whose influence can be heard in Taborn's polyrhythmic invention and expansive harmonic reach (which is, counterintuitively, expressed with a judicious use of economy). His approach is always focused, and he actively refuses to draw attention to himself, preferring to disappear in the music. His 2017 date, Daylight Ghosts (one of three albums under his name that year) revealed Taborn's aesthetic interests, from free-leaning group improvisations to ruminative chamber pieces and languid soundscapes, displayed in a quartet setting.
Taborn began working professionally in the '90s in a variety of musical contexts, ranging from straight-ahead jazz to outside music, with young jazz musicians, seasoned veterans, and even techno artists. In his hometown of Minneapolis, Taborn studied piano, composition, and music theory with area university professors before going away to college. Before he graduated, Taborn had already performed on three recordings as a member of the James Carter Quartet. After graduating with a liberal arts degree from the University of Michigan in 1995, DIW released Taborn's first date as a leader, The Craig Taborn Trio. He then moved to N.Y.C., and by the close of the '90s he had performed on two more Carter releases, Roscoe Mitchell's 1999 ECM release Nine to Get Ready, Detroiter Carl Craig's techno-jazz project Innerzone Orchestra, and Hugh Ragin's Afternoon in Harlem. Taborn's second album, Light Made Lighter, was a piano trio date for Thirsty Ear in 2001.
Taborn and pianist Vijay Iyer both played in Roscoe Mitchell's Note Factory for 2002's Song for My Sister on Pi Recordings, and worked with Mitchell separately afterwards. In 2018, they teamed for a live improvised concert performance in Budapest at the Franz Liszt Recital Hall, improvising while paying tribute to influential figures who had recently passed away, including Cecil Taylor, Geri Allen, and Muhal Richard Abrams. The unedited concert was issued by ECM in March 2019 as The Transitory Poems. In August, Taborn was billed as a featured guest with the Steve Lehman Trio (expanding them to a quartet) on their acclaimed Pi Recordings release The People I Love.
That fall, Intakt issued The Golden Valley Is Now, a "supergroup" electro-acoustic recording that placed Taborn in a collective with bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King of Bad Plus. His relationship with this pair dated back to 1982 and their hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It marked the first time they'd actually recorded together. The shorter tunes were composed by either Anderson or King, with the notion of a balanced whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. The individuals placed themselves in service to the songs, eschewing their usual roles in favor of an equanimous collective approach. ~ Joslyn Layne & Sean Westergaard