Pianist Craig Taborn returns to Walker Art Center, his inspiration point

  • Article by: BRITT ROBSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 25, 2013 - 9:23 AM

Growing up in Golden Valley, the pianist got his inspiration at Walker Art Center. He returns there Friday as a well-traveled star.


It was 1982 and Craig Taborn had his flight pants on — a 12-year-old hipster at a basement party in Golden Valley who had just acquired an electric piano. There he found a new friend, too — drummer Dave King.

Their musical infatuations were, to say the least, precocious for preteens.

“There were a group of us who were really hungry and serious, and attempting to play music that was, way beyond our ability, trying to do too much,” said King, now an international star with the Bad Plus. “In that sense, I guess things haven’t changed that much,” he added with a laugh.

King will join Taborn at Walker Art Center Friday night as part of a showcase the Walker is calling “Heroic Frenzies: The Music of Craig Taborn.”

For Taborn, it will be a vivid return to his musical roots. But the fete is less about bringing his life full circle than in serving as a launching pad for the continued upward spiral of his career.

On Tuesday, Taborn’s trio released its debut album, “Chants,” on ECM Records, home to such contemplative innovators as Keith Jarrett and Charles Lloyd, with a renowned ability to provide pristine acoustics that ideally match Taborn’s dynamic interplay with longtime drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Thomas Morgan.

The group is midway through a tour that just took it to Europe and will head to the East Coast — with stops in Chicago, New York and Boston — after this weekend’s homecoming gig.

Besides a trio set, Friday’s show will enlist King in revisiting Taborn’s classic 2004 album, “Junk Magic.” Taborn will also play solo piano along the lines of his widely praised 2011 disc, “Avenging Angel.”

At the Genesis

Taborn’s Golden Valley clique — also including Bad Plus bassist Reid Anderson — began the 1980s playing Van Halen and Bachman Turner Overdrive in basements and at church parties.

They quickly expanded their repertoire to prog-rock groups (Rush, Genesis) and fusion jazz (Weather Report), honing their skills wherever underage kids could play, including a makeshift stage at Viking Music in the now-vacant Four Seasons Mall.

The next step was jazz. Taborn remembers “really bonding with Reid Anderson because we both loved to watch Coltrane videos.”

King gives Taborn the most credit for their discoveries. “Craig was a real bridge for a lot of us because he always had his finger on something deeper and heavier, like Sonny Rollins or Henry Threadgill.”

And that’s where the Walker enters the picture.

“Coming back to play the Walker has huge connotations for me,” Taborn said, his passion palpable over the phone. “The only way it would be more eventful is if I was playing in that old room [now the Walker Cinema] where I saw some of the most influential concerts of my life.”

He reeled off names — Tim Berne, Roscoe Mitchell, John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Julius Hemphill, Geri Allen, Last Exit — some of whom later become his bosses and bandmates.

“I mean, I was listening to that stuff, but this was an opportunity to see them live, when they were touring Europe but almost never in the States. It seems like half the people I play with, I saw them first at the Walker. That experience was essential to what I’m doing now.”


    When: 8 p.m. Fri.

    Where: Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: $25. www.walkerart.org or 612-375-7622.

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