Somnambule - Writing About Music

Craig Taiborn ~ Junk Magic

Craig Taborn is one of those musicians who’s maintained a chameleon-like, but shadowy presence over the last decade. Despite having recorded three albums - including Junk Magic - as leader, arguably his highest profile work has been on Carl Craig’s Programmed (listening to Junk Magic highlights the contribution made by Taborn on that work). Junk Magic is released on Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series which any fan of the improv/electronica hybrids released on European labels such as Rune Grammofon, Jazzland and Smalltown Supersound is encouraged to check out.

The title track begins like a chamber music piece: Aaron Stewart’s sax and Mat Maneri’s viola cautiously dancing together, afraid to do anything more than touch fingertips while shadowed by Taborn’s equally chary electric piano. This strange little trio begins to be menaced by a growling bass figure which gradually steals closer and closer. After almost three minutes, a driving rhythm which seems to blow in from nowhere, increases tension significantly. There’s something very visual about this music, as if the listener were watching scenes directed by Kafka or his modern day cinematic equivalent David Lynch: imagine the music as occupants of a dusky room, watched surreptitiously from outside by a shadowy figure, then cut to a chase scene of said parties running from their unknown pursuer. There’s a rigid repetitiveness to the playing here, a mechanistic horror comparable to the more paranoid tracks on Giorgio Moroder’s soundtrack to Midnight Express.

‘Mystero’ introduces wavering synthetic tones woven with mournful viola and punctured by scattershot, machinic snares like a stripped down and radically reassembled version of Omni Trio’s Renegade Snares. The formal, melodic element of the previous track reappears here – a hybrid of Steve Coleman’s M-Base work and Michael Nyman-esque contemporary Minimalism. The formal patterns break up into variations, just as the tempo shatters in multiple temporal shards. Like running through a fairground hall of mirrors it’s never quite clear where the music is or what it will become in the next moment, the only certainty is a certain strangeness.

‘Shining Through’ is silvery, as if recorded behind the screen of a long-closed and possibly haunted cinema. It begins like the memory of another time: there’s the crackle of an old soundtrack, through which Maneri’s viola traces curlicues and flourishes. It’s like something old and possibly poisonous discovered in an attic which should probably have been left undisturbed. ‘Bodies At Rest And In Motion’ is pensive, its dark corners explored sorrowfully by each of the players before Taborn ups the ante with splinters of high notes which catalyse King’s electronic drums into similar motion until the rest of the ensemble are sucked in and mixed together like a serial dust devil. ‘Stalagmite’ is an all too brief (1’09”) fragment driven by a bass hoover garnished with ziggurat movements – it’s a heavy track which acts as a signpost indicating a possible direction for the group. Final track, ‘The Golden Age’, creeps in on the shadow of a mourning viola accompanied by even darker shadows cast by Taborn. Synthetic percussion strafes their gathering folds and dips of their gestures. This golden age is riddled with a darkness that belies its title.

This listener expected a jazz/techno hybrid, something along the lines of Carl Craig’s Programmed. Junk Magic defies such expectations delivering instead a hybrid of edgy modern jazz, minimalist composition and contemporary dance rhythms twisted and made oblique. It’s an ambitious and successful work which takes the listener into eery worlds where the next moment is uncertain and shadows gather suddenly.
Colin Buttimer
April 2004
Published by Milkfactory