Recording of the Week,
Golden Valley is Now
One of my first reviews for Presto was of Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer’s The Transitory Poems on ECM, a brilliant series of intense improvisations for two pianos that alluded to twentieth-century classical as much as jazz. A casual listen it most certainly wasn’t, so it’s good to hear Mr Taborn lightening up for Golden Valley is Now, a pop-influenced project with his childhood friends Reid Anderson (bass) and Dave King (drums). Anderson and King are best known as two-thirds of The Bad Plus (alongside pianist Ethan Iverson) - one of the most vibrant jazz groups of the past 30 years - and all three clearly have a deep love for pop, judging by the day-glo sounds pouring out of this record.
The opening track City Diamond reminds me of Kraftwerk’s Computer Love more than anything jazz. It’s not long before King starts adding tasty electronic drum fills, and I can imagine Taborn and his keyboard racks magisterially rising through the dry ice as he adds new glistening pads to the grandiose repeated chord sequence. Then Sparklers and Snakes deflates the pomp with a good-natured little incidental piece that could come from a kids cartoon. Song One is more post-rock, with Kid A-style distortion aplenty, making me think they could easily invite Thom Yorke to guest on vocals someday.
It’s nice to hear a brilliant improviser like Taborn chill out for a change, and you could almost charge him with putting his feet up and slacking off at points, so rudimentary are some of his synth lines. But therein lies the charm. And this isn’t a one man show – check out King’s splashy cymbals on High Waist Drifter, which could be The Munsters theme tune played by a bunch of know-it-all high-school muso nerds. In fact, that’s exactly what it is (don’t miss the fab drum and bass breakdown towards the end). Taborn’s rippin’ off Kraftwerk again on Polar Heroes allowing us to focus on Anderson’s lyrical bass work, whilst Solar Barges is a personal highlight, and representative of what the album does so pleasantly throughout: conjuring (in my mind at least) visions of sunlight on snow, blue skies, optimism and joy. It’s just the right side of po-faced too – it takes itself seriously enough, but never at the expense of friends having fun together.