On Saying So, free jazz pianist Steve Lantner gives new meaning to the word lyrical. He extends beyond gentle melodies to emphasize communication, and thus tell a story. Lantner builds statements, exclamations, and questionsand that feeling comes from his phrasing. When he's out front, Lantner has a particularly articulate way of putting things together. It's not the pointed lightning stabs of Cecil Taylor or the dark, angular thrusts of Matthew Shipp. Instead, Lantner relies on understatement and a gentle touch to make the music work. And it works. Consistently throughout each of these four extended pieces (seven to thirty minutes long), he allows ideas to unfurl at a deliberate pace, unrushed and crystalline in their clarity. And he's not averse to swinging, either. (No microtonal experimentation here, unlike Lantner's previously recorded material.)
The second remarkable feature of Saying So is that it features Joe Morris on bass. Morris, a leading statesman of free jazz guitar, takes this opportunity to dip into the lower register. It's an interesting contrast to his guitar work, which is dense, pointillistic, and often frantic. Morris places much more emphasis on harmonic relationships when he plays the basswhich means he isn't averse to simple structures intersecting with the melody at odd angles. He's not a bassist in any traditional sense; perhaps it's the altered perspective which allows him the freedom to do it a little differently.
Whatever the talents of the individual players, this is most definitely a trio record. (And don't count out drummer Laurence Cookhe has a wonderfully soft touch on the cymbals and elicits some exciting and unpredictable colors.) But Lantner, Morris, and Cook clearly spent this hour in open and involved conversation. No single player dictates the ebb and flow of this often tidal music. It comes naturally, almost easily, as time progresses.
Saying So is one of the very finest records to come out this year, and an interesting contrast to Morris's excellent trio record Age of Everything, also recently issued on his freshly reactivated Riti Records.
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