Luminous meshwork: the dazzling piano duo of Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer

A couple of years ago, to coincide with the release of his quartet album Daylight Ghosts, I posted a piece about the great American pianist Craig Taborn in which I ended by wondering enthusiastically about what he would come up with next. Well, we now have the answer in the form of a new album, The Transitory Poems, in which he is partnered by Vijay Iyer, another highly distinctive keyboards player, composer and leader who also works in that extremely fertile field where jazz is often closely related to – or sometimes even hardly distinguishable from – ‘contemporary classical music’, ‘new music’ or whatever you choose to call it. (If you haven’t heard Iyer’s work, I particularly recommend the albums Break Stuff and Far from Over.) 

taborn coverThe eight tracks on The Transitory Poems (named after a phrase used by the late, great Cecil Taylor as an assessment of humanity’s place in the cosmic scheme of things) were recorded live in concert at Budapest’s Franz Liszt Academy of Music in March 2018, and it’s a treat. The two musicians decided retrospectively to dedicate some of the tracks to various artists who’d recently passed away – pianists Taylor, Muhal Richard Abrams and Geri Allen, and painter and sculptor Jack Whitten – though the only dedicatee quoted at any length (as far as I can tell) is Allen, whose When Kabuya Dances makes an appearance to close the album. Given that Iyer and Taborn are such strong musical presences, not one of these ‘homages’ sounds remotely like imitation or pastiche; each track simply sounds like the expert interplay of two extraordinary pianists – quite different from each other yet complementing one another perfectly – coming together in brilliant harmony as they simply do what they do best; their close, mutual understanding of musical time and space is superb. It’s perhaps unsurprising the they’re so in sync with one another, as they’ve been playing together on and off ever since they both joined Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory back in 2002. The result, anyway, is constantly inventive music, meticulously assembled and performed in such a way that it’s almost impossible to tell where the written material ends and improvisation begins. 

You can find some more information together with rather frustratingly brief samples from the beginning of each track on the album here (and note that, website info notwithstanding, each piece apart from the Allen closer is jointly ‘composed’ by Iyer and Taborn, not by Iyer alone). If you fancy trying something longer you can check out the video below – though you don’t get to see Iyer until the very end of the number, you can definitely hear him. And that, as with Taborn, is what really matters.

The Transitory Poems is available on ECM from 15th March. The portrait photograph at top is by Monica Jane Frisell.

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