If jazz can really be described as the sound of surprise, it also involves trust on the part of the listeners. We need to approach the music trusting that the players are really trying to create something expressive rather than simply noodling away. The best music can force us to reconsider our reference points and how they affect our opinion of the music. Craig Taborn did this with his 2011 solo album, Avenging Angel. The pianist who could pour out all sorts of jagged lines with saxophonists Chris Potter and Tim Berne, among others, spent quite a bit of time playing sparse little melodies, one hand plinking a single note while the other hand changed chords. It was stark and didn’t always “go somewhere,” but that was the idea, so it still felt compelling and emotional.
Taborn’s trio with Thomas Morgan (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) has been a unit for eight years, and they’ve played together in other groups for even longer. Chants feels like a continuation of Avenging Angel. There are wide open spaces, like when Taborn lets chords ring out and Cleaver makes great statements with just the tap of the ride cymbal, much like Paul Motian. “Cracking Hearts” takes half the song to lock into place, but the journey feels like a three-way discussion. At other times, Taborn sets up odd-meter ostinatos and solos over them, sounding like two pianists going at once. Chants isn’t a conventional piano trio album, which is exactly why it’s mandatory listening.