There are times, during the loping, rollicking "New Routine" which opens this album by pianist Steve Lantner's trio, that it sounds, and even more emphatically, feels like you are listening to one of pianist/composer Thelonious Monk's great trios of the early 1950sshades of "Blue Monk," "Bemsha Swing" and "Little Rootie Tootie" jostle, accommodate and morph into each other, fresh-hewn and vigorous. The Monkish traces extend beyond the off-kilter theme and Lantner's exploration of it, in which consonance and dissonance constantly, and engagingly, rub shoulders, percolating too through Joe Morris' rugged walking bass and Luther Gray's precise, hard-swinging drums.
The shade of Monk asserts itself regularly on What You Can Throw, along with those of such other piano icons as, to take it chronologically, James P. Johnson, Bud Powell, Sonny Clark and Cecil Taylor. At times, the echoes are so strong one imagines Lantnerwho remains, at his core, an audaciously free and experimental 21st century playeris deliberately placing his historical influences in full view.
In other respects too, What You Can Throw overtly references the past. It's the Lantner trio's third albumfollowing Saying So (Riti, 2002) and Blue Yonder (Skycap, 2005), on which Gray replaced founding drummer Laurence Cookand is the first to reach beyond collective improvisation to include works from the free jazz tradition. Reed player Anthony Braxton's "Composition 23J" and saxophonist Ornette Coleman's "Broken Shadows," along with "New Routine," which was composed by Morris, surround just two tracks built around Lantner's more familiar, pitch class sets of abstract mini-modesthe title track and "All Around"each of which is based on a formal triad of notes.
In a revealing interview with AAJ in late 2007, Lantner articulated the relationship between the jazz tradition and his own, singular approach, and explained that he moved away from the micro-tonal space-probes of his earlier work with saxophonist Joe Maneri in the Boston Microtonal Society because he felt, "like I was hiding behind the uniqueness of what I was doing...like my music couldn't be assessed in any way other than that no-one else was doing it."
What You Can Throw marks another step along the path of placing Lantner's work in the wider context of jazz history, and it's all the more effective for it, providing secure arbors of tradition from which the pianist's innovations can be recognized and relished. That no-one else is doing quite what Lantner is doing has, consequently, never been more apparent.
An outstanding, accessible disc which will appeal both to free jazz cognoscenti and those wishing to dip their toes into the genre for the first time.
New Routine; What You Can Throw; Composition 23J; All Around; Broken Shadows.
Steve Lantner: piano; Joe Morris: double-bass; Luther Gray: drums.
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.