Steve Lantner: An Introduction
AAJ: That sounds amazing. You've worked with and without a drummer. You've also augmented your classic trio with horns. Paradise Road (Skycap, 2006), with Allan Chase, was my first introduction to your playing. That's just a superb record. I remember I wrote you were "Like a fast talker eager to make [your] points felt just as much as heard[.] Lantner weaves his topics of conversation in, out and around the loose rhythms.
As far as working with horns or without, do you have a preference? Do you know going into a recording session what form you want the ensemble to take and what players you want involved?
SL:Every combination of instruments changes my playing to some degree. When I play with a rhythm section, I tend to thin out the texture, so as to allow the sound of the other players to come through. Adding a horn to my trio allows me to shape the music from behind the primary focus. Playing without a rhythm section allows me to use the full range of the piano without the fear of getting in anyone's way. The way I play in a duo with Allan Chase is very different than how I play with the trio, in that I play a lot more piano.
It usually takes me so long to organize a recording that I tend to know well in advance what instrumentation I'll be using and what qualities I would like my music to impart. I have now produced two recordings of my trio with Joe Morris and Luther Gray, as well as two with the quartet that includes Allan Chase. While I am happy with all of this work, there is always something I'd like to improve. It is a constant effort to get closer to an unattainable ideal.
AAJ: Well, I love the stuff you've done with Allan Chase and the duo record should be amazing. You've performed live with folks like Fred Anderson and Ken Vandermark ... where are those recordings? Would you like to expand the group of musicians you record with or do you think there is something in Morris, Gray that allows you do explore the concepts and ideas you really want to focus on?
SL: The work I've done with Allan Chase, especially in a duo setting is very exciting to me. He and I have a very similar approach to unit structure improvisation. The sound that I am striving for in my music is in the balance between consonance and dissonance, and I use the term "resonance to describe this sound. It is my tendency to seek this middle ground harmonically, so that if the music is sounding a little too rich harmonically, I will try to center it with a more clearly established tonal center or reference point.
Alternately, if I think the music is too settled with a clear tonal center, I will extend the harmonic palette. I don't ever like to find myself in a situation where the harmonic language is so confined that I couldn't make any pitch work in some context, i.e. wrong notes. Along those lines, Allan and I have a special rapport. He once commented, when we were playing duo, that he felt like he could play any note against what I was playing and it would sound good. That is exactly what I try to do: create a setting where anything is possible. I think the piano is an instrument that can so clearly establish harmony that in an improvisational setting the pianist has an obligation to provide support without dictating the harmonic choices of the soloist. I want to create a musical setting where any note can sound good harmonically.
As far as my work with others, I did a gig with Fred Anderson that I recorded in Chicago with my trio, but I'm not sure what, if anything, I plan to do with it. And also on that trip I played with Ken Vandermark, although that was not recorded professionally. Both of those performances were great experiences for me. I love Chicago, and hope to get back there soon. I enjoy putting myself in unfamiliar situations, and I relish any opportunity to be a sideman in other peoples' projects because it tends to bring things out of my playing that might not otherwise happen. A good example is the recently released Joe Giardullo CD, Red Morocco (Rogueart, 2007), which is a beautiful and delicate large improvisational ensemble. On that record, I had the opportunity to play in a way that I might not otherwise do.
But for my own projects, I find that playing with people I'm most familiar, I'm able to get deeper into the music, and more things tend to happen that I would consider noteworthy. I want things to happen in the music, not to have the time just pass by, and then it's over.
AAJ: So your choice of sidemen influence the way you approach playing the piano?