For his third outing as a leader on ECM, pianist Craig Taborn is fronting a quartet and playing more within the contemporary jazz idiom than on his previous releases with that label. The quartet includes Chris Lightcap on bass and Chris Speed on tenor and clarinet, both New York denizens with whom Taborn has been associated in various ensembles over the years; and drummer Dave King of the alt-jazz trio Bad Plus, who like Taborn hails from Minneapolis. All three players fit well within Taborn’s mode of combining subtly melodic compositions with airy, sometimes free-form improvisation.
Daylight Ghosts kicks off with a bang on a rock-like intro by King on “The Shining One,” a short bit of hard-driving, melodic post-bop that’s defined by alternating sections of soaring unison playing and free-style counterpoint between Taborn and Speed’s tenor.
That kind of interplay characterizes the best parts of this date, which are topped by a cover of “Jamaican Farewell,” Taborn and company’s tip of the hat to its composer Roscoe Mitchell. Mitchell is one of the pioneers of the Chicago free-improv school, and one of many masters Taborn has played with and learned from. This is one of several tracks on which Taborn slyly insinuates electric keyboard sounds, which here form part of a wall of rhythm behind Speed’s woody clarinet and Taborn’s piano on this gorgeous melodic piece.
Other highlights include the short and sweet Afro-Cuban vibe of “New Glory,” with Taborn and Speed (on clarinet again) riffing off of each other as King and Lightcap lay down a hot Latin beat; and the title track, one of the album’s longer pieces. It’s aptly titled, too, with sections of sunny, airy, upbeat melody that shift through Taborn’s deft chord changes into darker places and back again to more wholesome climes. Taborn struts his stuff on this one, keeping up a continual, nearly droning arpeggio on the left hand while slipping into and out of melodic interplay with Speed’s tenor.
The electronics that are subtle elsewhere are less so on the album’s closer “Phantom Ratio,” playing a burbling and clattering rhythm underlying this piece that starts out languid and grows with intensity.
My favorite parts are those sections in nearly every one of these nine works where Taborn and Speed effortlessly glide between intricate improv and even more intricate composed unison readings. But Taborn gives ample evidence on Daylight Ghosts that he excels in settings that range from near-classical to rocking modern jazz.