Heading a line-up comprising Allan Chase on alto, baritone and soprano sax, Joe Morris on double bass and Luther Gray on drums, Steve Lantner determinedly tries to maintain a courteous detachment from the extremes of excessively discordant liberty and overly cosy consonance. That the pianist insists in defining this music “jazz” in an era in which many – including yours truly – are frowning as soon as that word’s heard is nothing but commendable, especially because Lantner knows where he is and what he wants in any circumstance.
The set, recorded in 2007 at the 21st International Jazzfestival Münster, is a fine demonstration of inter-reliant playing, the musicians obeying to a logic of clarity even in the rare moments in which the musical threads become more knotted. In particular, there seems to be a tendency to the superimposition of instantaneous rapid themes and sudden sketches that, for the large part of the program, sound – at least to some extent – planned in advance, such is the controlled discipline emerging from the sum of the parts. Each member of the group gains additional visibility in infrequent solo spots, none of them exaggerating in self-admiration during those occasions. The interplay is responsibly compact, occasionally quicksilver-ish and, generally speaking, highly gratifying.
Lantner is endowed with a soberly momentous technique, articulated figurations ranging from enthusiastic sparkle to crepuscular contemplation. This charisma never turns out to be overwhelming or dictatorial, the leader often comfortable in acting as a sheer harmonic colourist, letting the flow go on without excessive interference. Chase is a refined saxophonist whose firm timbre is informed by an imperturbable independence which nevertheless allows repeated nods to the time-honoured heroes of the instrument, complex melodic flavours and ever-skilful outbursts favouring a constantly agreeable circulation of high-quality tone. Morris is the owner of a inimitable style on the bass, plucked with equal doses of bad intentions and guitar-derived designs, a sensitive smartness not once deflated by cheap tricks. Gray is flawlessly efficient, always discerning in scansions that appear relatively untarnished despite their traditional origin, propulsive tasks performed with brisk dynamism and evident competence throughout.
This reporter is still interested in hearing good jazz after all, perennial suspicions and doubts notwithstanding, and it took a mixture of instrumental masters and deep spirit to revive that curiosity. This quartet has managed to make me appreciate old things again, principally due to the fact that they actually shine under the light of fresh individuality.