Seamlessly integrating divergent threads of musical history into a singular style, Boston-based pianist Steve Lantner has established himself as an artist to watch. His third trio recording and fifth as a leader, What You Can Throw is definitivea swinging maelstrom of lyrically disjointed melodies and abstruse rhythms.
Lantner is joined by his regular rhythm section, featuring Joe Morris on upright bass and Luther Gray on drums. Heavyweights of the Boston free jazz scene, Lantner, Morris and Gray have played together in numerous permutations, establishing a sense of interplay born of years of close-knit collaboration. Their symbiotic interaction has most recently been documented on Lantner's quartet album with saxophonist Allan Chase, Paradise Road (Skycap, 2006) as well as a trio outing, Blue Yonder (Skycap, 2005).
With a catholic approach to improvisation and a devotion to the vast history of the piano tradition, Lantner incorporates abstracted stride, boogie-woogie and barrelhouse variations into his sinuous phrasing. A Berkeley graduate and former student of microtonal advocate Joe Maneri while at the New England Conservatory, Lantner embellishes his formal training with a wildly fertile imagination.
Combing knotty right hand themes with driving left hand pulsations, Lantner offers a deluge of ideas. With virtuosic precision, he blazes a trail of dense chromatic voicings and jagged lines that tumble forth with cascading intensity. Cecil Taylor's oblique explorations of the late 1950s are an obvious precedent to Lantner's style, as is the work of Paul Bley, Andrew Hill and Thelonious Monk, among others.
One of today's finest improvising guitarists, Joe Morris has been splitting his time between his primary axe and the upright bass. Since Morris' contrabass debut on Lantner's first trio recording, Saying So (Riti, 2002), his phrasing has grown bolder while his sinewy tone remains solidly omnipresent.
A dynamic percussionist with a predilection for subtle, understated accents, Gray's ability to shade and color with crystalline clarity makes him the perfect accompanist in these spare and skeletal pieces. He can also swing with a vengeance, and there are ample opportunities to stretch out in these spiky grooves.
Lantner's previous trio recordings featured collective improvisations; this is the first to feature tunes by other writers. Anthony Braxton's "Composition 23J" and Ornette Coleman's "Broken Shadows" reveal dual facets of the free jazz tradition, the former vivacious and thorny, the later tentative and languorous.
Lantner's writing uses intervallic pitch sets, providing serial-based guides for labyrinthine journeys through a circuitous maze of visceral post-bop expressionism. Transcending typical notions of soloist and accompanist, the trio engages in three-way conversations that veer from dark, uncertain lyricism to bursts of hyperactive turbulence.
A fluidly organic interpretation of a classic tradition, What You Can Throw offers an expansive view of the current possibilities of the contemporary jazz piano trio.
Personnel: Steve Lantner: piano; Joe Morris: double bass; Luther Gray: drums.