Steve Lantner: An Introduction
At the time I felt like the only way to create new harmony with the existing twelve tones was by having a minimum of six notes to a chord. With microtones, you could create something of incredible harmonic complexity with just three pitches. As a pianist though, my options for using this expanded language were limited. The one purely acoustic option I had was to play two pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart simultaneously. This presented a number of technical challenges, primarily the fact that I needed two hands to play one microtonal melody or harmony (to my ears, playing the two pianos in a traditional manner, i.e. one hand playing chords, while the other playing a melody, just sounded like a bad joke). And then, of course, there was the huge practical challenge of finding two pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart.
One of the most profound shortcomings I encountered with the use of microtonality was that, in order for it to be perceived by the listener, the pitch language required an undue emphasis, which resulted in a lot of slow, brooding music. I ultimately abandoned the pursuit of microtonal playing, because I felt like I was hiding behind the uniqueness of what I was doing. I felt like my music couldn't be assessed in any way other than that no one else was doing it.
AAJ: "Pitch class sets. You used those on Paradise Road.
SL: "Pitch class set simply means a group of notes with a specific set of intervals. In tonal music the structures used are called "chords. Chords, in the traditional sense, are built from thirds (every other note of a scale, usual between three and seven notes). You can call any group of notes a "chord if you like, but the taxonomists might object, hence "pitch class set. The term came about to provide clarity to the harmonies being created by the twelve-tone composers. For what I do, it's a way of organizing my notes in a way other than with traditional chords, and all the different ways of playing around with them.
It works for the sound I want to get, which leans more toward the richness of the twelve-tone aggregate.
AAJ: What influences you more, classical or jazz? Are they two arms of the same beast? The word I saw in one review referring to your music was "European art music.
SL: I would have to say that the two influence me equally. I play a lot of different music, but ultimately it is all to one purpose, which is to play jazz. I have a very catholic approach to my playing, in that my goal is embrace as much music as possible, and to distill into a unified language. Jazz is by its nature fusion music, and ideally a living, evolving art form.
The effect that I would like my music to have would be to have an audience dancing in the aisles, all the while with tears rolling down their cheeks. That hasn't happened yet.
AAJ: Your playing has been described as more lyrical than the post-Cecil Taylor school of pianists. Is this lyricism something you strive for, does it just come naturally? Despite being classified or boxed-in as a free jazz player, you tend to gravitate to the more trad be-bop school of chords on one hand, melody on the other. It maybe just sounds free because of note choice, etc. JazzTimes called one of your records "mainstream bebop... refracted through an abstract, thoroughly modern idiom.
SL: I don't think anything comes naturally to me, and whatever I've been able to accomplish musically has been through a directed effort. There are several qualities that I try to impart in my music, forward motion being probably the most important. I also try to develop the music in a way the leads the listener through time, so that they can follow how it is I am going from point A to point B. I think all music should have some aspect of lyricism, regardless of the style, but in improvised music that can be difficult. It is impossible to be lyrical if your phrasing is determined by whether or not you can find the next note.
I'm not really all that concerned with how I am classified, as those labels tend to be the result of subjective opinions from a handful of individuals, whose range of knowledge can only be so extensive. It is human nature to compare something to something else. As a slightly bizarre example, say you are a food writer, and the only fruits you've ever eaten were oranges, apples and bananas, kiwi, pineapple, and mango. How would you describe a guanabana?