Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer
Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer. Photo by Monica Jane Frisell; Courtesy of ECM Records

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Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn at the Phillips Collection

Vijay Iyer is a structuralist, a percussive jazz pianist whose spiraling, often high-speed abstractions belie the impeccable touch and sumptuous Antoni Gaudí-like forms at their core. Craig Taborn has an airier, more amorphous approach to the piano. His lighter, slower, and more spacious sound can make his constructions—which are just as substantial as Iyer’s—feel like they were formed through coincidence. Both are experimental players, but their differences on the instrument are stark. When they come together, however—as they’ve grown a habit of doing since their 2019 release duo recording The Transitory Poems—their chemistry makes the whole proposition work. Whether by instinct or practice, the two understand how to work both with and around each other. Iyer’s thumping (if complex) rhythms serve as a grounding force for Taborn’s ethereal shapes, while Taborn’s dreamy surrealism softens some of Iyer’s sharper edges. Thus enmeshed, they dig in together, coalescing into dark, angular phantasms that tickle the emotional receptors—in the arcane sense that the best abstract art does. You know you’re feeling something; it’s powerful and sometimes overwhelming; but before you can puzzle out exactly what buttons they’re pressing, the artists have moved on to press other ones. “Moving on” is a key consideration here. Iyer and Taborn don’t revisit tracks from The Transitory Poems when they play live. As the title suggests, those were improvisations, and so are the pieces they place before an audience. You’re meant to experience them in the moment: If something stays with you, so much the better, but Iyer and Taborn can’t wait around while you interrogate their music. That’s what keeps you coming back for more. Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn perform at 4 p.m. on April 3 at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW. In-person tickets sold out; virtual tickets $15. Masks required.