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A Dispatch from Steve Lantner.

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Mr Lantner works an acoustic piano like a trumpeter working different mutes. Of all the exemplary pianists who are regulars at the Outpost, Steve is the only one to really open the thing up, literally. He removes all removeable covers so the thing can really resonate getting into its sonic quintessence. He doesn't want a single potential sonic nuance to be hemmed in by cabinetry.

And the best part is he always puts it impeccably back together exactly the way he found it. The whole quartet is such a class act, Mr. Chase, Mr. Morris and Mr Gray each bring some comparable impeccability to bear.

And as the building gnome, this counts for a lot as they never leave me some cryptic silly mess to fix.

What brought you to music?

“As long as I can remember, I have been motivated by the notion of wonder. After years of uninspired and fruitless childhood piano lessons, I got an electric guitar at age thirteen, and taught myself how to play. It was partly the sense of mystery and exploration that the guitar afforded me that drew me in. There was a seminal moment at the age of seventeen, when listening to the radio I heard Albert Ayler for the first time (those were the days, when, in the middle of the afternoon, one could stumble upon a radio station broadcasting Albert Ayler).

It was like nothing I'd ever heard before and I was transfixed. It was at that point that I started drifting away from guitar and back toward the piano, and started exploring the music of Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, and Cecil Taylor, among others. I have to say that at the time I really didn't have the ears to understand what I was listening to, but I listened nonetheless. Again, it was the sense of wonder that appealed to me.

Describe your role models, muses and mentors.

“I find inspiration and support from the people I work with in my group: Joe Morris, Allan Chase, and Luther Gray. They are all amazing musicians, and I have learned so much from playing with, and being around them. Despite the amount of knowledge I have gained through my studies, I have a tendency to be a bit insular. Being exposed to the wealth of knowledge that these three individuals possess has allowed me to contextualize my musical vision in unimaginable ways." But I would have to single out Joe Morris as the person who has been the biggest influence of my musical growth. It was Joe who encouraged me to adopt an all-inclusive approach to playing, to absolutely play everything one can, and to trust one's own vision to have validity.

Describe your community of colleagues and audiences.

“My community is small, but incredibly supportive. Locally, there is a core group of people who I can count on to come hear my groups' performances. There were several recent years when I was fairly inactive as a musician, and since renewing my level of activity, I've been gratified to have their interest and support. I hope in the coming year to expand upon this, and get my group heard by more people. On a broader level, I have been fortunate to have a number of writer around the US, Canada and Europe, who have consistently expressed support of my work."

What are the important elements you apply to your personal approach to performance, repertoire and composition?

“Going back to what I said earlier, I would have to say that maintaining a sense of wonder is at the essence of my music. Because of this, my process involves a great deal of risk. By that I mean, despite the amount of work I do on my instrument (and I continually seek to grow as a pianist, to learn new things, and to develop capabilities that currently elude me), improvisation is always the prime element when I perform.

While I may work on specific material prior to a performance, when the time comes to play, there is rarely if ever anything more than the few notes of a motif or intervallic structure to inform the music. The work I do in preparation of a performance is always kept on a most abstract level, so that material is never worked out to the degree that it can be used directly in performance.

I try to maintain a balance between expanding my knowledge and understanding of music, while holding onto that sense of wonder and mystery that started me down this path. Despite the degree to which I am schooled, I have always been quite protective of what I consider my naive inspiration. I believe that one can only play what one knows, and that there is a direct relationship between how “free" an improvisation is with how broad a language the musician has at his/her disposal. Because of this, I am motivated to learn absolutely everything imaginable on my instrument—every style, every technique. I can't have an opinion on a particular composer's work unless I can play it.

Only after I have reached a point where I can actually play the music as intended, can I determine if it has relevance to my own music, and I have yet to find a body of work that hasn't enriched my own. In terms of stylist elements, I want my music to express the vitality that is life's potential. If I had to describe the sound that I am trying to create, it would be that of a snapshot of the entirety of human existence (on a good day). For me, the language of jazz (which for me means percussive, articulated, syncopated swing) is the best suited for that purpose. To put it more simply, I want my music to make people feel alive and happy to be so."

What role does teaching have in your work?

“I used to teach more than I do now, and unfortunately I haven't created a situation for myself to teach the things that most interest me. But I have learned a great deal about my instrument helping others overcome their technical obstacles."

How have changes in the economy impacted your work?

“My professional trajectory has never been particularly steep, and the current economic climate has not helped in my most recent efforts to improve the grade. I do feel fortunate though, that I can continue to work with my group, growing the music."

If you perform beyond your region or overseas, how has that changed over time?

“It has only been in the past few years that I have had the opportunity to perform abroad. With the economy as it is, it has been a challenge to find situations abroad, particularly with the quartet. I am however hopeful that will change."

How has technology and changes in the way music circulates impacted your work?

“I admit to being a moderate Luddite. Up to this point I have not taken advantage of the networking potential that sites like Facebook and myspace have to offer, but I'm ready to join the 21st century. I would like more people to hear what my group is doing and I can think of no better means at this point."

Describe your current and potential future projects and collaborations along with things you would like to do.

“Right now I am focused on working with my core group of musicians, which is Allan Chase, Joe Morris, and Luther Gray. I am constantly amazed at what they can do, and how much they have helped me shape and realize my musical vision. We have a live quartet CD scheduled for release on Hat Hut in late 2009 titled “End Over End," and beyond that I'm not yet certain what's in store."

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This story appears courtesy of Brilliant Corners, a Boston Jazz Blog.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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