Off the Record: Four Pianos All in a Row

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La Scena Musicale's Discovery Box

Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn: The Transitory Poems (ECM Records, ECM 2644)

Nine years after their first concert ­performance, duo keyboardists Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn have finally released their recording debut. Just shy of 75 minutes, the album captures a performance staged in Budapest a little over a year ago. Eight tracks flow almost seamlessly, the pauses between them so short that the listener barely has the time to take a single breath. The players never lose focus, as they are so in tune with each other and so able to compose on the spur of the moment. Blessed as they are with surefire technique, they never try to outdo each other in their improvisations, nor do they indulge in fireworks or jousting matches, dangers that even seasoned players can fall prey to in such a context. Instead, the music has an aura of solemnity, a mood dictated in no small part by the passing of some kindred spirits. Sensorium, for one, is dedicated to Jack Whitten, a visual artist, whereas Clear Monolith and When Kabuya Dances are tributes to the African-American pianists Muhal Richard Abrams and Geri Allen; Luminous Brewing, finally, is an homage to Cecil ­Taylor, who died just weeks after this event. In an era when there is so much fast-food music, it’s almost a luxury for artists to ­create works of substance at a pace of their own choosing. This is one record that deserves a close listen or two, if not more.

Kris Davis and Craig Taborn: Octopus (Pyroclastic Records, PR03)

It can never be emphasized enough: Instruments don’t make music, people do. Case in point, the following recording: two pianists, one of them heard on the previous album (Taborn), but oh so different are the results. Hailing from Canada but now well ensconced in the New York scene, Kris Davis is the sparring partner in this hourlong side. The collaboration is an outgrowth of her previous album Duopoly, for which she invited a host of partners, Taborn among them, each to play two duos. On the heels of that initial encounter, a 12-date concert tour in the States ensued in the fall of 2016. Six tracks were culled from that whole tour for this release, issued late last year. Unlike the ECM duo, the players work with composed materials in this set, Davis is credited for two pieces, Taborn for three (one of his paired with Carla Bley’s Singing me Softly the Blues), and, as closer, Sun Ra’s Love in Outer Space. If Iyer and Taborn channel their music with deliberation, the pair here gives the impression of overtly prodding and challenging each other, with more heated exchanges occurring, and more dynamic thrust (the disc’s brighter sound magnifying the power of the music). Far from ­impeding the proceedings, the compositions provide extra fuel to the ­musicians, Taborn noting in the interview for the lead story the greater ­liberties they took with the materials during the tour. This recording, and the one previous, are both sterling examples of how much interesting music can arise from fluent improvisers on the same instrument.

In concert:
Taborn and Davis: TD Vancouver JazzFest, June 29,
Kris Davis: Ottawa, June 23, Vanc., June 28 (duo w. I, Laubrock); FIJM, July 6 (solo)
Craig Taborn and Farmers by Nature (trio with William Parker and Gerald Cleaver):
Vancouver, June 28

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About Author

Marc Chénard is a Montreal-based multilingual music journalist specialized in jazz and improvised music. In a career now spanning some 30 years, he has published a wide array of articles and essays, mainly in Canada, some in the United States and several in Europe (France, Belgium, Germany and Austria). He has travelled extensively to cover major festivals in cities as varied as Vancouver and Chicago, Paris and Berlin, Vienna and Copenhagen. He has been the jazz editor and a special features writer for La Scena Musicale since 2002; currently, he also contributes to Point of Departure, an American online journal devoted to creative musics. / / Marc Chénard est un journaliste multilingue de métier de Montréal spécialisé en jazz et en musiques improvisées. En plus de 30 ans de carrière, ses reportages, critiques et essais ont été publiés principalement au Canada, parfois aux États-Unis mais également dans plusieurs pays européens (France, Belgique, Allemagne, Autriche). De plus, il a été invité à couvrir plusieurs festivals étrangers de renom, tant en Amérique (Vancouver, Chicago) que Outre-Atlantique (Paris, Berlin, Vienne et Copenhangue). Depuis 2012, il agit comme rédacteur atitré de la section jazz de La Scena Musicale; en 2013, il entame une collabortion auprès de la publication américaine Point of Departure, celle-ci dédiée aux musiques créatives de notre temps.

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