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Craig Taborn: Shadow Plays (ECM)

A review of the pianist's live concert recorded at the Wiener Konzerthaus in Vienna

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Craig Taborn: Shadow Plays
The cover of Shadow Plays by Craig Taborn

In 2011, two decades into a career defined by a wide array of settings and styles, mostly as a sideman and sometimes working on electric keyboards, pianist Craig Taborn released Avenging Angel, a stunning solo piano debut for ECM. The recording firmly established Taborn as a first-tier innovator and redefined the possibilities of solo piano. His music swelled and receded in unpredictable ways; it alternated moments of intense, rhythmically forceful clusters with elegant passages of great subtlety. Often it was as if you were at the shore, at times squinting into the distance to focus on the beauty at sea and at others completely inundated by it.  

During the next decade Taborn refined his style both in small groups as a leader and in piano duets with fellow trailblazers Kris Davis and Vijay Iyer. On Shadow Plays, he returns to the solo format with a live concert recorded at the Wiener Konzerthaus in Vienna, where the concert was billed as “Avenging Angel II.”

Shadow Plays begins as subtly as Avenging Angel. You’d be advised to turn up the volume or you might miss the nuanced highlights at the beginning of “Bird Templars,” the 17-minute track that opens the recording, as the music begins sparsely, building toward gale force, then retreating with elegance. That pattern is repeated on one other lengthy track, “Shadow Play.” Meanwhile, Taborn’s lighter side shines on the whimsically titled pair, “Discordia Concors” and “Concordia Discors.” The program closes with the graceful sophistication of “Now in Hope,” which is followed by a thunderous ovation, suggesting that the demand for Taborn’s solo work may be too strong to let it go another decade before he revisits the setting.

Learn more about Shadow Plays on Amazon and Apple Music!

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