Gerald Cleaver – William Parker – Craig Taborn
Farmers by Nature
AUM Fidelity AUM 053
On this 2008 live date, recorded at the Stone in New York City, drummer Gerald Cleaver, bassist William Parker, and pianist Craig Taborn don’t function like your average piano trio – with a stratification of roles that often prioritizes piano with the other members accompanying. Instead, theirs is an egalitarian collaboration, with a passing of leadership at various points in the musical proceedings that allows for all three instrumentalists to have their turn center stage. In addition, their avant-jazz approach to a traditional ensemble grouping allows for unorthodox playing techniques to spice things up.
The short, meditative “Korteh Khah” begins the set in the vein of textural exploration; but it is the extended essay “Cranes” that is a standout in this regard. Here, Parker prefers bowed playing to walking lines, creates great swaths of repeated notes. Cleaver matches Taborn’s upper register lines, employing a shimmering cascade of bells. Only partway through do things start to sound less like contemporary chamber music and more like traditional jazz. Taborn starts the shift, adding a series of sharply articulated, thickly stacked chords that steer the music back to a palpable sense of swing. Confirming the stylistic shift, Parker puts down his bow and attacks a buoyant walking line with gusto. But there’s a coda filled with special effects – bowed bass harmonics, skittering angular piano lines, and gently-articulated textural percussion; it serves to frame “Cranes’s” trad jazz center with bookends of avant jazz mysticism.
“Fieda Mytlie” opens with an extended cadenza from Parker, whose plethora of playing techniques makes the solo double bass take on multiple roles – percussion, melody, and bass-line – simultaneously. Cleaver joins, creating a supple, polyrhythmic duet. When Taborn enters, his contributions ride this headily intricate rhythmic groove. He builds his part in terraced fashion, starting with melody lines, adding bass riffs that dovetail with Parker’s, and eventually moving to zesty postbop chord progressions. The piano thus telegraphs a subsequent crescendo by the whole trio, building to a thrilling climax. An astounding performance; dare we hope for a follow-up in the recording studio?