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.”
A puzzle that floats
Taborn’s stints with Berne and Mitchell — leaders who encouraged his use of ethereal electronics and open spaces, respectively — helped crystallize his concept for “Junk Magic.”
The title is perfect because the music often wafts like spellbinding detritus, free but not unmoored, ranging from slapstick to symphonic. It is the most cogent 21st-century extension of Miles Davis’ iconic “Bitches Brew.”
It is revealing that Taborn tapped King, with whom he played so many different types of music growing up, to help steer an album that drifts and careens from pratfall rock to fragile, free-floating jazz.
“You understand why Craig hand-picks people,” King said. “He plays with such freedom but there is also this detailed aesthetic, so that things lock together like pieces in a puzzle while at the same time the music hovers and floats.”
That mutual sense of purpose and abandon, repose and exploration, also characterizes the solo acoustic piano pieces on “Avenging Angel,” which deepened Taborn’s reputation as an innovator. One critic described it as “a major contribution to the actual language of the piano as an improvisational instrument.”
Then there is the Craig Taborn Trio. It’s probably the most thorough-going exploration of his “detailed aesthetic,” because of the second-nature rapport the group enjoys, having been together since 2007.
Taborn has played with drummer Cleaver since they met at the University of Michigan. “I’ve known him longer than any musician but Dave and Reid,” Taborn said. And bassist Morgan shares Taborn’s knack for sure-footed forays into self-made seemingly tenuous circumstances.
“I’m excited to do this,” said Taborn of the trio portion of the show. “We’re touring Europe just before coming to the Walker. I have some new tunes that could change everything before we get there. We could go to a whole other level.”
And perhaps leave a permanent mark on some hungry teenager in the audience.