Recorded live at the Skycap Festival in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Paradise Road is the debut recording of pianist Steve Lantner's new quartet. Lantner's trio, last heard on Blue Yonder (Skycap, 2005), featured the energetic pianist accompanied by Joe Morris and Luther Gray, on bass and drums respectively. The spirited trio is now a quartet, augmented by saxophonist Allan Chase, well known for his turbulent excursions in Rashied Ali's Prima Materia project.
Unedited, the concert consists of three lengthy pieces, all based on a series of intervallic pitch sets. These structures serve as guides, rather than limitations. Focusing their improvisations with thematic logic, the formal aspects of the pieces never restrain the quartet's enthusiasm. A riot of energy and color, the musicians play with an intensity that teeters on the verge of collapse without ever losing direction.
Lantner plays with knowing precision, navigating from visceral, pneumatic clusters to scattered pointillism. His knotty phrasing is formal but unfettered, invoking early Cecil Taylor at his most assertive. The kinetic pulse of "Barrelhouse" yields passages of bop-inflected linearity, which in turn reveal subtle shades of abstraction reminiscent of the work of Andrew Hill and Horace Tapscott. Lantner even invokes the experiments of Dave Burrell and Muhal Richard Abrams with some choice, deconstructed stride interjections.
A multihued improviser, Allan Chase demonstrates kaleidoscopic versatility, veering from cathartic angularity to melodic abstraction. His keening alto sprouts truncated fragments with brisk fluidity on the tumultuous opener, "Shaking Hand." On the swinging, bop-inspired jaunt "Barrelhouse," he issues forth a slew of swirling variations on his baritone. Like his contributions to John McNeill's Gerry Mulligan tribute, East Coast Cool (Omnitone, 2006), Chase pays homage without imitation, soloing with force and harmonic audacity.
Morris and Gray draw from a long-term working relationship. Though the guitar is his primary instrument, Morris' solo contributions on bass here are as expressive as any of his contemporaries. Gray is a dynamic and powerful presence. Shifting tempos with ease, his mastery of metric modulation is striking. Together, their spasmodic, jittery rhythms fuel the quartet, whether raging fitfully on "Shaking Hand" or driving with incessant forward momentum on "Barrelhouse."
"Two Step" finds the quartet stretching dynamically, showcasing Chase's soprano in an abstractly lyrical conversation with Lantner's meandering piano. Gradually intensifying, the piece culminates in a rambunctious four-way dialogue, closing the set on a high note. Well recorded with minimal audience noise, Paradise Road is a telling document from an artist on the rise.
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