Steve Lantner

Paradise Road
Skycap Cap 028

Like a public speaker who gets decidedly excited before he or she faces an audience, pianist Steve Lantner of Marblehead, Mass. builds the three live improvisations by his quartet around a great deal of accelerated musical tension and very little satisfying release. What the results are physically and emotionally for the players is open to question. But this situation certainly creates an impressive outpouring of brisk, dynamic sounds, pointedly balancing on the edge of controlled anarchy.

Marking a change from his last CD, the pianist has added saxophonist Allan Chase to his combo of bassist Joe Morris and drummer Luther Gray. Chase squares teaching at Boston’s New England Conservatory with gigs with the like of trumpeter John McNeil, vocalist Dominique Eade and his own band. Belying – or perhaps confirming – his impressive academic background, Chase solos with the same go-for-broke energy that the others bring to the pieces. Gray is a strong, inventive drummer, while Morris, better-known as a guitarist, has become profoundly assured on his alternate instrument.

Concerned with intervallic structures, each of the improvisations is borne along on high frequency chording and rubato cross-handed patterning, especially from the keyboard. Reminiscent of Herbie Nichols’ understated power, there are points when Lantner’s surging pianism is such that spaces between the keys appear to be highlighted as well as the bare notes themselves. Strummed chords, flashing arpeggios and agitato attacks are all part of his game plan, as he consistently alters the voicing and pulse-emphasis.

Steadfast as an accompanist, the bassist keeps the rhythm on an even keel in contrast with the cauldron of whirling tone fragments that emanate from the soloists. Stepping upfront, Morris prefers double-pumping low notes, dark pulses and hefty circular slaps. Adding to the thickening swirls of stressed-to-the-breaking-point timbres with back-handed rolls, nerve beats, and pulsating ruffs, Gray advances the polyphonic program, without lessening the action.

Individualistic in his response to this tensile intensity, only rarely does Chase resort to accelerating altissimo shrills or foghorn blats to counter, for instance, the pianist’s hardening dynamic note clusters. Instead he showcases luminescent and nimble vibrations that relate more to alto saxophonist Paul Desmond’s or baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s so-called “cool” voicing than the harsher excesses of 1960s’ Energy Music players.

Still, a tune like “Barrelhouse” allows him to solo in broken chords with gutsy, yet crafty baritone saxophone pitch-sliding, as the rhythm section trio shifts tempo underneath him. On the other hand, Chase’s waves of pitch-vibrated notes complement Lantner’s player-piano-like speed on “Two Step” so that every gap within the composition is filled; and until the entire show piece is manhandled to a rough-edged, satisfying conclusion.

Impressive, hard-edged quartet sounds map the route on this Paradise Road.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Shaking Hand 2. Barrelhouse 3. Two Step

Personnel: Allan Chase (alto and baritone saxophones); Steve Lantner (piano); Joe Morris (bass) and Luther Gray (drums)