A picture may be worth a thousand words. A live music experience needs none. Pianist Craig Taborn’s Spoleto Festival opening concert proved as much: He did not speak. Commencing a four-night, six-show run on Wednesday, Taborn rounds out this year’s Wells Fargo Jazz Series at College of Charleston’s Simons Center Recital Hall.
A consummate sideman, he steps into the limelight as an equally accomplished leader for his festival appearance, performing two solo piano programs with repertoire from his 2010 album release “Avenging Angel.” He is scheduled to bookend a conspicuously piano-driven jazz series with four trio performances, two each on Friday and Saturday, joined by bassist Chris Lightcap and Gerald Cleaver on drums. They will perform selections from their 2013 album “Chants and Song.”
Taborn tacitly acknowledged the intimate room with prayerful hands, accompanied by a wafting serenity. His first solo set, imbued with an often-used ostinato that provided an immutable foundation, created a dynamic sonic palette.
His music is evanescent, morphing moment by moment, as he builds on the momentum of each layering effect, whether it be a dark and stormy left-handed rumble followed by a piercing three-note melody or the clever transitions between the brighter major and darker minor modes.
As he moved through his original compositions, his herculean technique was as much a feast for the eyes as it was for the ears as he leaned into each musical choice. When curled over the keys, he inherently channeled the vibration of his instrument, making the room feel even cozier. An example was his delivery of the Gershwins’ “But Not for Me,” beginning and ending with a contrasting minor “Bye Bye Blackbird,” an achingly gorgeous arrangement. It was divine, though not an exception.
Taborn’s emphatic silence was deafening. It was as much a part of his artistic statement as was his use of every fiber and alloy of his instrument. He displayed strokes of genius with dense yet nuanced counterpoint, giving every note its due, and then some. His exquisite use of the sustain pedal blanketed the hall with reverberating warmth, painting drab white walls vibrant with color.
Though his personality might be elusive, his music is not. It is conscious, alive and texturally compelling. Taborn’s focus on the music alone made for a lucid, introspective experience. He is part of an astonishing vanguard of contemporary jazz musicians who are informed by historical lineage, inspired by myriad influences and devoted to carrying the improvisational torch, all while making their own indelible mark on this magnificent continuum.
Undoubtedly, Craig Taborn’s trio performances will only augment his incandescent solo work. His recordings are exhilarating. The ephemeral, live sojourn is sublime.
Reviewer Leah Suarez is a Charleston-based musician.