James Finn Quartet: Great Spirit (2005)
What should instantly grab the attention of James Finn fans is that this is his first quartet recording. His previous efforts (on Cadence, CIMP and Clean Feed, plus five on his own Gingko Leaf label) were all trios, matching his tenor and flute with drums and bass or two drummers. Finn kicks up enough dust that it takes a few listens to Great Spirit for it to settleand to take in Deanna Witkowski's role, since the saxophonist's playing has so much charisma and propulsion from the first notes that it's difficult to think of piano as anything other than a side instrument. But cut for cut, Witkowski manages to stay right with him.
Recorded performing a series of unrehearsed improvisations (with titles that read as a prayer), the quartet is energized and continuously creative throughout Great Spirit. Finn opens the title piece with a flourish and carries on for a relentless, striving five minutes before resting. "To Deliver Your Song opens with a cadenza, and Finn does more with it than anyone this side of Sonny Rollins. "Of Hope and Forgiveness is taken at a slower pace with longer lines, Finn concentrating on the midrange of his horn, whereas on "Give Us Strength, following Witkowski's introduction, Finn joins in with the tinkling percussion and ringing cymbals. He flirts with a groove but doesn't pursue it, electing instead to extrapolate farther, delivering his most expressive and wide-ranging blowing on the disc.
Much has been made of Coltrane's influence on Finn's playing. And nothing demonstrates this as clearly as the tone poem "Give Us Wisdom, carried along by drummer Klaus Kugel's mallets, Witkowski's gentle piano chords and Finn's whispering, squeaking reed. But Finn uses it as a starting point, not an end in itself. Here's hoping he continues to vary his instrumental attack.
Track Listing: Great Spirit; Give Us Strength; Give Us Wisdom; To Deliver Your Song; Of Hope and Forgiveness; Of Love and Peace.
Personnel: James Finn: tenor saxophone; Deanna Witkowski: piano; Leon Lee Dorsey: double bass; Klaus Kugel: drums.