Junk Magic: Compass Confusion — from the menacing to the blissful

Pianist/composer/producer Craig Taborn first used the name “Junk Magic” in 2004 for his quartet release on the left-field jazz label Thirsty Ear. At the time, Taborn’s use of electronica, group improvisation and post-production techniques broke new ground. Live gigs followed, personnel came and went and now, 15 years on, Junk Magic is the name of Taborn’s band.

This long-delayed follow-up release finds Taborn in familiar company, blurring the boundaries between live performance and studio techniques with a confidence and depth of feeling that newcomers in the field rarely match. Drummer David King and Mat Maneri on viola are from that debut, Chris Speed is a substitute on clarinet and sax and, with new addition bassist Erik Fratzke adding tonal depth, the band’s quality of sound fully matches Taborn’s clarity of vision.

The programme begins with wraithlike layers of electronica made more malevolent by the disjointed resonance of a funeral bell. A pulse emerges some two minutes in, King adds backbeats to a throbbing groove and then bass, cello and sax join one by one. Introductions made, “Laser Beaming Hearts” gathers intensity and stops dead on a high.

Album cover of ‘Compass Confusion’ by Junk Magic

“Dream and Guess” follows exploring layers of sound. Here, fragments of melodic viola come in ghostly shades, drums thump like an evil spirit, and electronic scrapes merge with soft saxophone sustains. Then the title track’s textural shards segue into the blissful tones, gentle rhythms and interlocking lines of “Little Love Gods.”

The album’s panoramic 10-minute centrepiece arrives mid-set. “The Science Of Why Devils Smell Like Sulfur” ranges from stark piano and splashed cymbals to mournful cello and urgent funky beats. Tempi change, textures cohere and fade, and electronica is always in the mix.

The final three tracks deliver contrasting moods and tones. The floaty “The Night Land” oozes mystery and menace, sax and viola swish, scamper and swirl on “Sargasso” and “Sunsets Forever” ends the album with warmth and calm. The narrative arc is complete.


Compass Confusion’ is released by Pyroclastic Records

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