COMMUNITY VOICES | Craig Taborn brings his brand of frenzied heroism to the Walker Art Center


Craig Taborn, the protean pianist, composer, and conceptualist, will return home to his native Minnesota Friday night for a celebration of his music at the Walker Art Center’s McGuire Theater. The performance, cryptically entitled “Heroic Frenzies,” will begin at 8. He will play in three different formats: with his electronica outfit Junk Magic, with his acoustic trio, and solo.

Taborn’s performance will come just days after the release of his new trio album,Chants. In a review for The New York Times, Nate Chinen praised the “extraordinary” album for its “alert indeterminacy.” Taborn is no stranger to such critical acclaim; he has been making waves among critics and fans alike since he first arrived in New York City in 1995.

Part of Taborn’s appeal is his extensive sonic palette. Too often, working with such a broad range of styles entails a process of imitative appropriation. Not in Taborn’s case. From the layered electronics of Junk Magic to the stark minimalism of some of his solo work, his music evinces a singular vision.

Taborn likes to cultivate extremes within his music. Oblique passages give way to moments of startling transparency. This rhapsodic quality pervades nearly all of his work. As he told Chinen,  “The meaning stems from the multiplicity of ideas.” He credits the inspiration for this “three-dimensional” approach to his time spent listening to the music of the Association for the Advancement of the Creative Musicians (AACM), first as a kid, borrowing recordings from the Hennepin Library, and later playing with and learning from AACM luminary Roscoe Mitchell.

Taborn’s work employs a number of innovative concepts. Although he can certainly conjure virtuosic “frenzies,” he is especially noted for his use space and silence. His remarkable virtuosity is only buttressed by his intriguing tendency to deemphasize it.

Perhaps this insouciance is a result of another central tenet of his aesthetic: deference to the moment. “Basically, I am trying to allow the moment to unfold in the perfect way that it can, if nobody tries to force it in a specific direction,” Taborn told Chinen.

Between him and his bandmates exists an unusual degree of collectivity. In fact, the term “piano trio” doesn’t seem applicable to his group, since the members contribute on more or less equal footing. “I convened the group around their personalities, more so than around the instrumentation,” Taborn said.

Because of his kaleidoscopic range, a number of adjectives could be applied to Taborn’s work. He’s versatile, creative, unique, and virtuosic. But “heroic?” 

As I pondered this word, the image that came to mind was that of the Absurd Hero–the artist who attempts to create order where none exists, the jazz musician, Sonny, in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” who searches for redemption through authenticity. In Baldwin’s story, that redemption is grounded in the rituals of improvisational creation, but it doesn’t belong to the musician alone; “his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.”

Twin Cities music lovers will have an opportunity this Friday to share in the triumph of a true creative hero.