The Craig Taborn Quartet began its Night Club set Saturday night (visible to webcast fans at kusp.org) with a forty-minute composition called “Ancient”; the pianist reminded the audience that he had premiered the piece in a trio arrangement at the Coffee House across the Fairgrounds when he played MJF in 2007. It’s a suite in many parts, beginning with Taborn crouched like a mad scientist over a Farfisa organ decked out with all manner of electronics and synthesizers. Taborn created a vaguely spooky electronic wash, accented by plaintive saxophone wails. At some point, Taborn switched from the Farfisa to the acoustic piano, from which, over time, he drew out an insistent rhythm. In time, the other instruments dropped out, and Taborn traced out a delicate solo line of aching restraint and beauty, like some old Duke Ellington melody. Rhythms, of lockstep regularity at one moment or irregular the next, would follow, as would passages of great dynamic variety.
Taborn’s piano playing is percussive and remarkably precise, and draws widely from many sources. He delights in turning to the electronics for variation. It’s not too much of a stretch to draw a line from Taborn’s quartet set to the late-period John Coltrane paid tribute Friday night by Joe Lovano with the Berklee Global Jazz Ambassadors, particularly in the wide-open approach to rhythm.
Across the lawn at Dizzy’s Den, John Coltrane’s legacy was present in a much less abstract way. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, the son of John and Alice Coltrane, played to a standing-room only crowd, and a line of fans extended far outside the venue. Listeners are understandably eager to hear Coltrane in the wake of his excellent 2012 Blue Note release Spirit Fiction, easily Ravi’s strongest album. Presumably, though, MJF festival-goers are also awed by the saxophonist’s surname. At the close of his spirited solo on the sopranino saxophone on Charlie Parker’s “Segment,” the audience exploded; it was an appropriate response to a fine improvisation, but there seemed also to be a palpable joy of discovery that the Coltrane spirit lives on. If this is a burden for Ravi, it doesn’t show.