Jonathan Finlayson - 3 Times Round

Label: Pi Recordings, 2018

Personnel – Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Steve Lehman: alto saxophone; Brian Settles: tenor saxophone; Matt Mitchell: piano; John Hebert: bass; Craig Weinrib: drums.


If you dig sterling modern jazz, Jonathan Finlayson is a name to memorize. At the age of 36, the Californian trumpet ace is flying way above the standards and is still receiving accolades for his fantastic CD Moving Still, featuring his Sicilian Defense group. On the newest 3 Times Round, his third outing on Pi Recordings, he is joined in the frontline by two vibrant saxophonists - altoist Steve Lehman and tenorist Brian Settles - whose fieriness and passion help taking Finlayson’s compositions to a level that many experienced musicians would aspire to reach.

The album’s opener, “Feints”, is full of life. Punchy unisons, impeccably executed by the horn section, buoy up the theme statement while the sonic tapestry underneath is allusive of Steve Coleman, with whom Finlayson has been working with for the past 20 years as a core member of his Five Elements group. The improvisations kick off with pianist Matt Mitchell, who weaves single-note melodies before dexterous concurrent movements are delineated on distant registers. The bandleader embarks on a swaggering three-way dialogue with the saxophonists. They delve into the agitated textures with gusto, taking their advanced vocabularies with them. This becomes also salient on “Grass”, a modernistic epic laid out with nerve. Here, Lehman and Settles compete furiously, employing sharp-edged speeches. After Finlayson’s searching discourse, Mitchell departs for a compellingly beautiful exploration. Freedom is so intense, and still, the tunes have well-defined structural ideas locked in.

A Stone, A Pond, a Thought” is a haunting modal contemplation that sort of dissipates the brisk vibes emanated by the previous compositions. Piano, drums and John Hebert’s arco bass conspire to create an extraordinary, functional foundation that supports the prevailing appeals by the trio of horns with firm spirituality. There are some other pieces with a controlled temperament, cases of “Refined Strut”, which is sprinkled with a fanciful tango-ish rhythmic feel and affecting balladic tones; and “Rope From The Sky”, a dark chamber-like experience.

The longest cut on the album is “The Moon is New”, which clocks in at 14:07 and commences with an enthusiastic piano ostinato flanked by timely piano/bass wallops on the lower register. This odd-metered rhythmic flux is posteriorly dismantled through a combination of reflective melodies from piano and bowed bass. There are more unisons declared with terse angularity, anticipating the individual improvisations, which arrive separated by deliberate pauses. All of them are surrounded by a particular mood and comes filled with evolutionary spontaneity and supple fluidity. In his own arresting style, Finlayson assures the tone and quality of his instrument; Lehman fires up shuddering attacks with fractured curls and sharp angles; Settles is tremendous, aspiring to a sort of Coltranean ascension; and Mitchell is never redundant in its creative process. The soloists also shine on the provocative “Tap-Tap”, whose rich orchestration and defying tempo sort of align with the slanted push-pulls of Henry Threadgill.

This is a must-have album from a rising trumpet star and smart composer whose innovative jazz perspective has absolutely everything one might ask for. One of the year's very best.

Grade  A+

Grade A+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Feints ► 03 - A Stone, A Pond, a Thought ► 07 – Tap Tap