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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Craig Taborn, Christian McBride, Tyshawn Sorey - Flaga: Book of Angels, Volume 27 (Tzadik, 2016) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

On this recent Book of Angels release, John Zorn brings together a new piano trio, with Craig Taborn, Christian McBride, and Tyshawn Sorey. All three have been on some superb albums from the past couple of years, including Taborn’s longstanding trio and the super-trio Farmers By Nature, Chick Corea’s conventional but killer acoustic trio with McBride, and Sorey in both his own Alloy trio and Mario Pavone’s Blue Dialect. The recorded output of these men is huge, so it’s no surprise the result is a scorching hour of music. As with all Masada projects, there’s the clever historical nod—this is clearly an acoustic piano trio in the tradition of pretty much every single acoustic piano trio ever—but nothing is ever simple with Zorn, who cleverly tweaks and twists convention to make Flaga recognizably his.

“Machnia” doesn’t waste a moment, with a single piano pick-up before the group enters into a floating, lush improvisation, led by Taborn, who stomps out the brief melody before launching into another fierce solo. On the follow up, “Peliel,” Taborn delivers the melody with such lightness and sensitivity. His emotional range on the piano is nearly unparalleled, and it’s a testament to the working relationship with Zorn that the pieces here draw on all his strengths. “Katzfiel” is a knotty pretzel of McBride’s walking bass lines intertwined with Sorey’s brisk tom and cymbal work, winding their way beneath Taborn’s, let’s call them supernatural, piano runs. He displayed some of this work on his ECM trio debut, and again I’d give kudos to Zorn for taking something even remotely familiar and making it fit squarely in the Masada tradition. “Talmai,” of which two takes are included, is primarily a showcase for Sorey, who is every bit Taborn’s counterpart, from his emotional drive to his dexterity and creativity.

I don’t think any readers of this blog will be surprised that McBride is the clear outlier in this group. His discography boasts over 300 albums (interestingly, he lists two Zorn albums). However, I was even more surprised to hear how well he integrates with Sorey and Taborn. There’s genuine rapport and equal space given up to all three players. Take “Rogziel,” where McBride and Taborn perform a hard-edged duet over and through Sorey’s crashing drums. This is followed by “Harbonah,” which hinges on McBride’s pretty flawless arco lead.

We are rapidly nearing the end of Masada Book Two, with both Book Three and Zorn’s Bagatelles on the way. It’s wonderful to hear Zorn continue to amass these talented, creative groups, and I’m thrilled by the promise of what’s still to come.


Steve N. said...

Very beautiful music played by three masters. Fills my heart with joy.