Light Made Lighter
Thirsty Ear 57111

A long time coming, pianist Craig Taborn’s first American date as a leader has been expected since he started making his name as the pianist in saxophonist James Carter’s first quartet in the mid 1990s. Since then he has recorded with the likes of violinist Mat Maneri and avant elder statesman, multi-reedist Roscoe Mitchell and spent time live and on disc in a new electric configuration of altoist Tim Berne’s trio.

Although he sticks to the acoustic piano here, the result still seems diffuse, as if Taborn was in a men’s wear store, trying on different outfits for size in one of those three sectioned, wrap-around mirrors. Barely reflected in that mirror are his accompanists, drummer Gerald Cleaver, who has worked with pianist Mat Shipp and guitarist Joe Morris, and bassist Chris Lightcap, who has been in groups led by Morris and drummer Whit Dickey.

Overall, despite the echoes of Thelonious Monk and (surprisingly) Herbie Nichols in his playing and composing, Taborn is pretty much dressed in his mainstream piano togs here. A few tracks, most of the ballads and including the two versions of the title tune, appear a little too lightweight for the session. As a matter of fact, if Cleaver’s didn’t bring out the mallets and Taborn’s introduce rococo variations on “Light Made Lighter”’s trio version, it may have seemed that like the emperor’s new clothes, his covering was a little too transparent.

Luckily there are other garments on show. “St. Ranglehold”, for instance, features the most outside playing on the date, with Taborn scurrying up and down the keyboard and wedging Cecil Taylor-like clusters into his solo, while Lightcap produces a steady bass undertow and Cleaver lays down the steady beat. But the tune cuts off at 2:55.

With its blusey double timing “Whisky Warm” could probably be described as polite barrelhouse, while the trio appears to be recasting a standard — even if it isn’t — when it plays the highly decorative “American Landscape” with its walking bass line and

Monkish piano clusters at the end. Following a powerful drum intro, “Crocodile” begins with classical-arrayed sounds, then develops into an outright swinger, with Taborn audibly developing ideas and Cleaver hitting everything in sight. Even the one certified standard, “I Cover the Waterfront” is transformed with rim shots and keyboard variations so that it sounds more like a nursery rhyme than the familiar dirge.

In short, LIGHT MADE LIGHTER, which suspiciously has no recording date, resembles a closet lacking the requisite amount of substantial clothing. Part of the problem may arise because too many of the tracks are in the two to three minute range, with the disc itself barely over 40 minutes.

Since Taborn is still young enough to be growing as a person as well as a pianist, the best idea would probably to give him more room to grow into things when next he does a session.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Bodies We Came Out Of 2. St. Ride 3. I Cover The Waterfront 4. Crocodile 5. Light Made Lighter 6. Whisky Warm 7. Morning Creatures 8. St. Ranglehold 9. American Landscape 10. Light Made Lighter - piano 11. Bodies We Came Out Of part two

Personnel: Craig Taborn (piano); Chris Lightcap (bass); Gerald Cleaver (drums)