Craig Taborn-Daylight Ghosts: Album Review

Having first jumped out on the jazz scene as a leader in 1994, Craig Taborn is now a young veteran.  For his latest project on famed ECM records, he’s met up with some similarly established players—namely The Bad Plus’ Dave King, reliable sideman and leader Chris Lightcap, and the highly active Chris Speed—to craft a work that only four highly experienced players could.  “Daylight Ghosts” is masterful in its delicacy.  Even when Taborn gets busy with some of his bop-rooted piano lines, coupled with conversational plot points from Speed’s sax, Dave King’s lyrical drum approach keeps the work grounded in a sort of whitened aesthetic.  Through this delicacy, the work certainly catches a bit of the classic ECM sound which can have its negative side.  Overall, there’s not so much of a sense of raw, unadulterated passion, particularly on the work’s backside, and even with dance and latin rhythms coming in the equation, there’s a bit of over-refinement.  This isn’t a record that bores or takes a step backwards, but it’s hard to call it radical.

The compositions on the project are minimal, yet complex.  The title-track probably has the most lyrical melody and it gives off the initial impression of a ballad, but then Taborn takes it into a few different contexts.  After the sax introduction, Taborn’s descending, minor melodic answer is underpinned by a quiet, driving repeated note gesture and almost rock oriented drum sound, which takes the track to a bit more hard-hitting a place then initially expected.  On the backside of the track, Taborn switches gears to a blissful midrange piano texture that implies a bit more of a pastoral sound, before adding in some high note chords that add off-setting dissonance—again signifying an unexpected turn.  The track gets rounded out when Speed refers to the melody from the beginning and King builds up a wall on the kit.  None of the sections of the piece sound all that complicated on their own, but the relationships between them are intricately woven.

Taborn also offers unexpected changes in direction in setting time at the beginning of a few tracks for input from other players, which allows for a new tone color and personality to come into play.  On “The Great Silence,” Speed whips out the bass clarinet for the first time.  Naturally the new sound of clarinet is going to change how the band operates, but Speed also resorts to some sluggish, squirrely melodies in a newfound mode.  Up until this point, much of the album has had some sense of rhythmic drive, but the absence of drums along with Speed’s playing style open this track up to spacey ambience for a nice change of pace.

On “Ancient,” Chris Lightcap gets some room on the bass.  His work here gives a sense of the rhythmic drive that the track is going to have.  He repeats a relatively open ended interval that could serve as the foundation for a multitude of different jazz tracks.  By keeping it to just bass, Taborn allows for a lot of opportunity for change over the course of the track, while also imbedding this initial rhythm within each player’s psyche.

Improvisation works largely as a transitional tool.  Taborn’s pieces are certainly not over written and it occasionally sounds like a handful of melodic sketches with non-specific solo sections smoothing over the transitions.  On the opener, a short, angular melody kicks things off, then Taborn and Speed are sort of off to the races, trading improvised melodic lines, but the melody from the beginning sees a lot of reprisal seemingly whenever either Taborn or Speed see appropriate.  It’s a very malleable tune and the improvisation creates the constant drive.

The work is masterful in many ways, but the rawness of youth seems to be fading for these players.  Especially towards the end of the work.  The space on “The Great Silence” is sensible, but by the end the only sign of energy is still a bit too lightly tapped out on the drums.  It’s a great listen, but it’s impact is unlikely to be monumental and it lacks an awe-inspiring shock factor.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

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