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Steve Lantner Quartet: Paradise Road

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Three tracks and 56 minutes deep, Paradise Road is a workout—for listener and artists alike. The moods range from caffeinated and frenetic to thoughtful and subdued, with each member of the quartet holding the spotlight for a moment and none outshining the other.

Steve Lantner's compositions bring together the best of the American and European avant-garde. A comparison to Matthew Shipp would be justified, as the two seem to associate with the same circle of friends (Mat and Joe Maneri, Joe Morris), though Lantner also finds congress with the Chicago scene of Ken Vandermark, Nate McBride and Co.

Paradise Road is culled from a December 2005 live performance at the Skycap Arts Festival and presented here in unedited form. Lantner's regular trio, consisting of bassist Joe Morris and drummer Luther Gray, is augmented by saxophonist Allan Chase. Morris, whose guitar playing is in the same vein as Eugene Chadbourne or Derek Bailey, sounds outstanding here on bass—just check out his solo in the closing moments of "Shaking Hand.

To give his free improvisations more structure, Lantner experiments with pitch-class sets: each tune revolves around a specific three note pitch-class (on this particular recording, the sets are 013, 025 and 024, respectively). This idea is intriguing and certainly gives his tunes a dynamic structure, but you don't need to know music theory to appreciate what's going on. Simply put, Paradise Road is loosely structured free improvisation at its finest.

The Steve Lantner Trio +1 hits the road running with "Shaking Hand. All four members are engaged in choppy, static exposition. Lantner drops blocky chords a la Cecil Taylor, while Chase's alto darts in and out of the melody and Morris and Gray get together and do their own thing. You could separate what's going on here into two distinct conversations: the rhythm section is deeply involved in its own back and forth, while Chase and Lantner engage in theirs. Chase drops out for a section and we hear the core trio of Morris, Gray and Lantner playing with unmatched energy. A bass solo and drum solo later, the full quartet is back at it again.

Chase's baritone on "Barrelhouse is smooth and rich. Shoot—you could almost dub a swinging hard bop band over the Lantner trio and not notice a difference in Chase's playing. Gray attempts to swing appropriately, but Lantner does his best to keep things disjointed.

"Two Step opens with a solo by Lantner. The pianist's playing here and throughout is lyrical and punchy. Like a fast talker eager to make his points felt just as much as heard, Lantner weaves his topics of conversation in, out and around the loose rhythms. As "Two Step progresses, the tune evolves into a soft and subtle conversation between Chase and Lantner, both playing at their absolute best. (Note to Lanter: next project—a duets album. Do it!)

Paradise Road is an outstanding showcase of new and underexposed talent—not just Lantner, but Morris, Chase and Gray as well. All four participants shine.

Track Listing: Shaking Hand; Barrelhouse; Two Step.

Personnel: Steve Lantner: piano; Allan Chase: soprano, alto and baritone saxophones; Joe Morris: bass; Luther Gray: drums.

Title: Paradise Road | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Skycap Records

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