Friday, July 05, 2013

CD Review: Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense - Moment & the Message

Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense
Moment & the Message
(Pi Recordings)

Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson begins his leadership debut in a mood that sounds awfully close to the composer with whom he regularly plays: Steve Coleman. "Circus" begins with some staccato funk, always reshaping the bar line so it's hard to count. Everyone works together creating something tight and intriguing.
Suddenly, about half-way into the tune, Finlayson changes his mind. The tempo slows down and he starts blowing long tones on his trumpet. An ascending chord progression starts to add suspense to the music. He's clearly doing more than paying homage.

This oversimplifies Finlayson's m.o., of course. And as it turns out, "Circus" was inspired by another unique bandleader/composer, Henry Threadgill, anyway. Playing with either musician is going to leave a big impression on how you project your own thoughts, and the trumpeter is getting pretty clear ideas about how to execute them. The name Sicilian Defense comes from an opening move in chess, and that sort of deep thinking carries through the album. Melodies don't always resolve clearly, and the band seems to be looking ahead to their next move. Like Coleman, it isn't meant for casual listening, but it's definitely an engaging listen.

Sicilian Defense includes Miles Okazaki (guitar), David Virelles (piano, who had Finlayson on his Pi release last year), Keith Witty (bass) and Damon Reid (drums). Despite having two chordal instruments in the band, things never get lost in clusters of notes. In "Lo Haze" Witty and Virelles interact while Okazaki adds some spare comments behind them. As the song goes on, Reid (who has played with Steve Lehman and Rudresh Mahanthappa) gets a chance to go wild. "Ruy Lopez," an actual transcription of the first eight moves of a chess game, is slower, with trumpet and guitar engaging in a twist on what sounds like a call and response.

"Fives and Pennies," the penultimate track on the album, last 12 minutes, all of it put to good use. The piece slowly develops, keeping the spotlight on Finlayson's bright tone, which has also been heard with Mary Halvorson's band and on Steve Leman's Travail, Transformation and Flow (2009). Moment and the Message might not completely reveal itself on the first couple hearings, but it will lure you back to figure out what is going on with this bold voice.

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