Craig Taborn, Shadow Plays, ECM ***

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Published: 8 Oct 2021. Updated: 19 days.

Ask yourself what you want out of a record, something that you cannot obtain from any other art form. It could be a lot of things. Something that you have never heard or felt before. Dazzling dexterity. Daring. An individual vision. The excitement of improvisation. An original mind. Solo piano improvisation is a specialist area within jazz. The piano lends itself to solo performance better than many instruments regularly used in jazz because of its huge resources as an instrument. Probably the best live solo piano experience I have ever had on record or live was listening to Keith Jarrett in 2008 at the Royal Festival Hall which became part of Paris/London Testament. Taborn is not a Jarrett in style or execution and this isn't in the same league at all. And yet his impact on you is radically different and strong. Certainly a solo piano album of improvisation is an event when a pianist as great as Taborn decides to deliver the materials for one and live in Vienna performed at the Konzerthaus in March 2020 the American navigates the hinterland between tonality and atonality. But I am frustrated by it in the end given that not every track moves me even where there are strong passages and several great moments. That is the nature of the high wire act, but do you always want to be waiting around hoping that the high wire artist can actually merely stay up? Art of the anti-ballad? Perhaps. Buying into easy moods is not what Taborn is about. He is a radical artist in this rejection of the nicety of form and in his ready embrace of the impact of an unresolved chord. 'Concordia Discors,' which means a harmony of discordance is the track I return to most and is why the album ultimately works and may even represent a turning point in his ideas given how differently he deals with harmony on it. Stephen Graham

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Tags: Albums

Matthew Shipp, Spiderweb, Tao Forms ****

There are no short cuts. There are no clichés here. Free improvisation is the ultimate and there are few who can scale the summit as expertly as Matthew Shipp. Minutes spent with Shipp may be the most meaningful thing you can hope to do today if …

Published: 8 Oct 2021. Updated: 19 days.

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There are no short cuts. There are no clichés here. Free improvisation is the ultimate and there are few who can scale the summit as expertly as Matthew Shipp. Minutes spent with Shipp may be the most meaningful thing you can hope to do today if you want to improve your listening chops. His method involves placing tonality in a blender but the knack is that he does not swerve away from melody as some hardcore improvisers in all validity do. He instead makes however distant ''the melodic'' sound as if it is present in the dashboard as he steers to a new location. Harnessing a chordal dimension that works from the middle of the chord often not from its root or rinsing the effect through over-saturated chromaticism which can be in lesser hands a coasting, on this track you can hear part of what he has been developing along these lines over many years on 'Spiderweb'. Shipp also uses his own internal rubato in the metrical sub-division of internal rhythms that he employs in the ''current'' of his sweep that amounts to a version of pulse. It's Ellingtonian at heart that is updating itself everytime he sits down to improvise and listening to 'Spiderweb' is the next best thing to being in a small club watching his hands and letting the sound wash all over you like the warmest, purest, most invigorating water this side of euphoria. Codebreaker is out in November