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James Everest has been a performing musician, composer, and curator for over 20 years, and host of the Making Music conversations series since 2005 at the University of MN and Walker Art Center. He has been music director of Emily Johnson / Catalyst dance company since 2004, and performed with several music projects including Lateduster, Neotropic, Roma di Luna, Vicious Vicious, Toby Thomas Churchill, BLACKFISH, and The Grave Trio.

Masterful Taborn’s Magical Homecoming

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, musician and Making Music host James Everest shares his perspective on […]

Photo by John Rogers

Photo by John Rogers

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, musician and Making Music host James Everest shares his perspective on Friday night’s concert by Craig Taborn. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Great performances can capture an audience, delivering us into the realm of pure presence – where an artist’s careful attention to their craft brings us deeply into their world – their choices and intention, moment to moment – where the sustained intensity of their artistry burns so bright that it can bring together and transport an entire hall full of people into a different place.

Minnesota native Craig Taborn’s concert in the Walker’s McGuire Theater on Friday night was titled “Heroic Frenzies,” referencing his myriad influences and his considerable performative versatility, qualities fully displayed on this great 3-part bill, which did just that – brought an entire room together, and ultimately, to its feet.   The packed house got a concert perfect for the McGuire space – primarily acoustic instruments, amplified just enough to fill the space, leaving ample room for the entire theater to reverberate with the sounds and spaces created on stage.

From the moment he stepped from the wings, Taborn commanded our attention – taking a brief bow, then quickly taking his seat at the grand piano, back to the house, pausing for a short breath before easing into the first of three solo pieces which opened the evening. The house was silent and attentive, and Taborn quietly set the tone with a mesmerizing, meditative opening section built upon a delicately repeated left hand figure that he deftly coaxed into subtle variations. Taborn’s penchant for blending classical and jazz sensibilities was immediately clear as melodies and rhythms would straighten then swing, with a constantly shifting harmonic arc.  Alternately stately and playful, with growing intensity, his first song shifted into a B section of cascading right hand runs, then slid back to the first section seamlessly.

When he ended this first piece, there was a pause, as he sat still at the piano, and the audience sat quietly, transfixed, not sure if it was over, waiting for whatever next note would come, and just as one person began to clap. Taborn began the second piece, a bluesy stomp that exhibited his hyper dexterous technique, crossing hands effortlessly, with the sharpest sense of groove and swing, head nodding.  When that second piece ended, there was less doubt, and the audience seized the chance to respond, bursting with applause and cheers.  Still intent and focused, Taborn dove right into the third solo piece, after which, he spun on his bench and accepted the thunderous cheers from the crowd, looking to the wings for his bandmates in Junk Magic to take the stage, triggering a spoken word sample that played as they took their places.

Dave King (drums) and Erik Fratzke (electric bass) are based in the Twin Cities and have played together for many years, most notably in legendary jazz group Happy Apple, and King grew up with Taborn in Golden Valley before Taborn left for college in Michigan. (They recently teamed with fellow GV native Reid Anderson from The Bad Plus to form an “Instrumental Pop” group Golden Valley Is Now.)  Junk Magic combines Taborn with King and Fratzke, plus NYC based Chris Speed on tenor sax and Matt Maneri on viola to play Taborn’s fusionist electro groove compositions. For this wide palette, all players but Speed electronically altered their instruments: Fratzke and Maneri each ran their strings through chains of effects pedals, King added electronic sampling drum triggers and pads, and Taborn played 3 different electric keyboard /synths, in addition to a collection of effects and sampler modules.

The opening spoken poem sample gave the group a chance to add color and texture underneath, creeping in with layered ambience, easing our ears into this wider sonic spectrum from the solitary world of the grand piano. As the first tune began to take shape and the spoken sample ended, the viola and sax began making long, snaking lines together, often swerving into microtonal harmony, as King, Fratzke, and Taborn began to coax a groove into place, one accent at a time.

The Junk Magic set had an exuberant intensity that no doubt came partly from the fact that Junk Magic hadn’t played together in 3 years. They were all stepping out and listening carefully, an ensemble of 5 individuals who clearly loved the opportunity to create something brand new on stage, with much room to stretch out and improvise within the structures of Taborn’s songs. There was a palpable sense of anticipation as each song spontaneously came to life and each player added their voice, carefully layering harmonies and accents with an immediate, visceral joy.  In particular, the viola and sax often played with each other or directly off each other, a unique tonal hybrid – the breath and the bow – to deliver many of the melodies.  Urgent distortion on the viola, a slide on the electric bass, laid on Fratzke’s lap, the original Fisher Price Happy Apple joining the parade of King’s percussion toys – all provided textures, while Taborn carefully provided a glue with chords and tones from his affected keyboards.   But because of the intense focus of each player, each fresh moment of each song unfolded with the thrill of a collective discovery – new territory for players and audience alike – and continued to build the larger energy and focus in the room.

The final section of the night commenced after intermission when Craig Taborn’s Trio took the stage – Gerald Cleaver on drums, Thomas Morgan on upright bass, and Taborn back on the grand piano.  In contrast to Junk Magic, the Trio has been playing much more together, and more recently, as they’ve just released a new CD Chants, and it showed in their playing. The music stands from the Junk Magic set were gone. The trio wasn’t reading any charts. Where Junk Magic felt like 5 individuals playing together, the trio felt like a single entity, symbiotically connected to their songs and each other on a highly intuitive, intimate level.  Their set began with long pauses, dramatic waiting, suspense and suspended moments that made their connections clear when they would resolve them so masterfully – shifting emphasis from one player to the next, a single voice from three instruments.  It was clear in the space they gave each other, in the easy shifts between styles – heavy groove to Ellington-esque majesty – that they had total command of their material and their ensemble expression.

One particular highlight came when Taborn ended a solo piano section with a chord that he held extra long with the piano’s sustain pedal – and as the chord slowly faded away, ringing throughout the theater, we were all following its slow arc when Morgan entered with a gentle, brief bass note, allowing us to hear the last strains of the piano, then adding a few more plucks, and slowly building his own bass sequence, which, at its apex was joined suddenly yet assuredly by Cleaver’s light funky rim and high hat pattern, sending the groove into orbit for Taborn to jump back in.  So much space given, and yet so tight together!

You could feel the hometown pride in the audience grow as the evening progressed, culminating in the standing ovation that brought them out for a sweet, short encore. Through three diverse sets of music, Taborn and his cohorts held our attention and brought us to new places we were thrilled to have been.

King For 2 Days: Day Two

My personal favorite moment was bassist Adam Linz’ soulful solo intro on the ballad “Church Clothes with Wallet Chain” – singing along Keith Jarrett style. yum. nice one, adam. He was having a blast.

Another great night of music in the McGuire – and while it was clearly another  night of Dave King music, it was quite a different experience from the night before, featuring three completely different groups: Golden Valley Is Now, The Gang Font, and The Dave King Trucking Company, the first and last of which were giving their premier performances.  This gave me a different sense of anticipation from the previous night, when I had already seen those groups before.

Again, I was very impressed by the program itself, – the way the evening flowed – starting out with the tight, electronics fueled  ”instrumental pop” of Golden Valley Is Now, a trio featuring King on acoustic and electronic drums, Reid Anderson (The Bad Plus) on electric bass & laptop, and Craig Taborn on rhodes and synthesizer keyboards and laptop.  Further setting apart the GVIN performance was the big screen video projections by Cristina Guadalupe, with specific video pieces set to certain songs, adding to the sense of each song’s personality.

Most striking for me was when King introduced a song by describing how these three childhood friends would get together as teenagers to play music at King’s house in Golden Valley, and now this past december, they did the same thing to prepare for this concert.  He then referenced 80s group Mike & The Mechanics (to audience laughter, though it wasn’t a joke) as the song began.  Immediately, the big screen was filled with gorgeous, jumpy, black & white film/video footage shot from a car driving through Golden Valley neighborhoods in a snowy winter. (shot by Reid’s wife). The combination of that backstory, with the footage of passing suburban winter scene houses, and the 80′s electro musical vibe, really created a rich sense of the three musicians, connected at such a formative age, coming back together for this joyous occasion to explore new (and old) ground artistically.  It hit close to home for me personally, having also grown up in MN and gotten rides from my parents to go play music in my friends basement – friends I still perform with today. There’s something very minnesota about the whole thing, and that moment really resonated for me, personally.

The videos offered lovely scene changes from tune to tune, and the last song, the breathtaking “The End of The World” when king left his drums for the treated grand piano – an eerie, haunting, vast expanse of a song, that like many king compositions, opened up through a hopeful twist, moving up and out to finish the set.  really, really beautiful. Another delectable McGuire moment.

The Gang Font then came on to bash in some heads with their heavy, mathy,  angular march, featuring Greg Norton, (Husker Du) on bass. The highlight for me was the section led by Erik Fratzke’s repeated circular guitar riff held down by King’s steady beat that kept landing in new places. That was some sick guitar playing. wow. (not that I’m surprised)

The Trucking Company has such a wide palette – both instrumentally and stylistically. And King chose the perfect song to introduce the set – the same song he played on MAKING MUSIC on thursday, though this time it opened up to be joined by his bandmates.  Sitting at the grand piano, alternating between the rootsy, bluesy, key- played progressions, and the more ethereal, mysterious, pixie dust string plucks – like a conversation between the two worlds – which was how he described the Trucking Co. project in general.  And the Trucking Co felt more like an orchestra than a band – even though it’s just a quartet. The way King has written for this ensemble is much more as an orchestral composer, it seemed to me, giving it its broad sensibilities.  At times, the Fratzke/Chris Speed dual lines reminded me of Scofield/ Lovano. Speed’s crazy “warbled” tone tricks were a nice added wrinkle.

My personal favorite moment was bassist Adam Linz’ soulful solo intro on the ballad “Church Clothes with Wallet Chain” – singing along Keith Jarrett style. yum. nice one, adam. He was having a blast.

the night ended with another all-star rousing rendition, joined by James Diers and Reid Anderson on vocals singing a broken down (and lifted up) version of the old country tune “Convoy”, which emily wouldn’t stop singing the rest of the night.

As another musician friend told me the next day, it was one of the most incredible, powerful couple o’ concerts we’d ever seen or heard. dave was exhausted afterwards, and bravo for such a well thought-out weekend of music. He’ll need to rest up, as the Bad PLus heads into the recording studio right away this week….

King For 2 Days: DAY ONE

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed the first night of Dave King’s 2-night extravaganza. King called it “a celebration of the idea of committing to a band” – the same theme of ensemble primacy that he emphasized last night at the Making Music chat. And it was apparent all night – the joy and ease with which […]

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed the first night of Dave King’s 2-night extravaganza. King called it “a celebration of the idea of committing to a band” – the same theme of ensemble primacy that he emphasized last night at the Making Music chat. And it was apparent all night – the joy and ease with which everyone interacted musically, King’s wide smile, the intense focus they showed to each other’s playing. You could see how they were all listening to each other and everything with such intensity.

Tonight was classic King – exuberant performances, the widest range of musical dynamics, and hilarious comedy bits in between, keeping us engaged and shaking our heads. This has always been the way I’ve seen King present his work – a messianic intensity with comic relief. The video clips of him with his kids was classic, and brilliantly funny and absurd.

This was the type of show that really showcases the McGuire’s strengths as a concert hall – acoustic music heard with sublime clarity and resonance. Throughout the night, I marveled at how well I could hear everything and everyone – every last detail. Certainly, it’s a tribute to the players themselves, so acutely aware of space and tone – how and where they placed their notes – but the room was an exquisite vessel, giving perfect reflection and absorbtion to every blast, scratch, and flutter.

I was also impressed by the whole program – the pacing, the set order, the way the evening’s music unfolded – beginning with Buffalo Collision, the free jazz improvisational quartet – drawing us into their world of intense listening and spontaneous, intuitive creation. Particularly King and cellist Hank Roberts also add a real flair for gesture, their bodies convulsing and twisting out their notes and textures. The BC set set the tone for watching an ensemble interact and react and relate to each other – to build something collectively from nothing, but with so much trust and intention – playing as a quartet, but more often as trios and duets – players dropping out and listening, waiting for the right moment to add something. Particularly Ethan’s gorgeous comped extended chords that were laid in so delicately at perfect moments, shifting the weight and dispersing the intensity of the melodic lines of sax and cello.

“Sea Sun Spot Run” was classic Happy Apple – perfect juxtaposition of “out” times and angular rhythms with sweet, lullaby progressions – the volume pedal fade ins of the keyboard line…. And the swirling, swelling final crescendo of loops & samples fading out perfectly. Happy Apple’s dynamics have always been so powerful – pure magic – to bring an audience into the quietest, most intimate and minimalist moments before or after bashing your head in with some heavy whirlwind.

As the night went on, the songs got shorter – the bad plus tunes had very brief solo sections as did the bad apple tunes, but they were so solid – and each tune was reduced to its essence, and I think it really helped keep the energy up – it was a long show but it never felt like it.

It is so much fun to watch the Bad Apple play those ornette tunes. such gleeful abandon. such muscle. such finesse.

Wendy Lewis – her harmonies with Reid’s singing on What Reason Could I Give were an instrument on par with those surrounding her. I wanted more of her voice. Was hoping there was a second encore planned….but the length of the show was really perfect. It felt like not only a celebration of Dave King, but of our whole community – so many great players – on stage and in the audience – and so much influence and inspiration that has circulated through our music scene over the past couple decades. King spoke of the Walker’s role in his own development – exposing him to new worlds and sounds – and I know that for me personally, Happy Apple has been an immeasurable influence and inspiration – as players, composers, performers, and as people.

can’t wait for the second show….

DAVE KING on MAKING MUSIC

Last night, Dave King joined me for a special 5-Year Anniversary edition of the Making Music series, MAKING MUSIC 2.0. at the McGuire Theater at the Walker. Dave was my very first guest on the Making Music series, back in Feb 2005, and 5 years later he came back to preview his exciting weekend of […]

Last night, Dave King joined me for a special 5-Year Anniversary edition of the Making Music series, MAKING MUSIC 2.0. at the McGuire Theater at the Walker. Dave was my very first guest on the Making Music series, back in Feb 2005, and 5 years later he came back to preview his exciting weekend of sold-out shows at the Walker, “King For Two Days”.

Making Music 2.0 is a chance for guest artists who’ve already been on the show to come back and discuss a specific current collaborative project – in this case, we focused on the two new groups premiering this weekend: Golden Valley Is Now and The Dave King Trucking Company. On our show 5 years ago, David talked about a dream project that he’d been trying to put together for years – a musical Trucking Company of Enlightenment – and now that vision is finally coming to fruition.

It was great to have Dave back on the show, and generous of him to give his time, as he’s in the middle of a frantic week of preparation for these shows. I told him at some point backstage, how I remembered how he’d told me years ago that he was done performing with 2 bands in the same night – it was probably after he’d done 12 RODS w/ Happy Apple, or F*K*G with Love-cars – some double bill and he was exhausted by it. It was too much. And now look at him. I reminded him of that conversation and he just shook his head, looking at the ground, a subtle grin. He said it had only hit him the day before, of just exactly what he’d gotten himself into. But despite being tired and frantic, Dave was incredibly articulate and thoughtful in our conversation, describing the various projects, and giving insights as to how they’re each unique, each giving him a new avenue of expression and artistic challenges.

One theme that came up repeatedly was how important the ensemble is in these groups – musicians who have committed to each other and to a project – in shaping that project’s personality and vitality. He was very eloquent in talking about the challenges of playing improvised music, but also the immense pleasure in creating at such an intense level with true masters.

Of course he was funny, too, as always. Check out the Walker TV high def video of the show and post your comments!