Plaza De Toros is a portrait of a bullfight rendered in free jazz terms. That description may sound almost absurd, but the music itself, with its power and its use of idiomatic Spanish harmonic material, carries the passion of its subject matter in direct fashion.
James Finn plays the tenor saxophone, and he plays it very well. His tone is full and robust, with a heft and vibrato inspired by Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, and the sheer weight and mass of it recalls Albert Ayler. He plays some very fast lines, but he articulates his notes with precision. His improvising is both passionate and intelligent, with a clear sense of order. He might start with a phrase, examine it, embellish it, play longer lines, and build to a screaming climax. Unlike the first wave of energy players, Finn doesn't rely on altissimo squealing for the bulk of his solos. Instead, he plays with control and a logical sense of development.
Plaza De Toros is free jazz. It does not swing. The rhythms push and pull, or rush past like cyclones, or pulsate in seemingly erratic fashion. But swing rhythms are implied throughout the album. The beat darts in and out, with drummer Warren Smith surging through many tempo shadings, all of them variations on very fast. On "Toreo de Capa," to name one example, Smith allows a very fast 4/4 swing to surface momentarily. Virtuoso bassist Dominic Duval provides a moving line, always maintaining a sophisticated conversation with Finn and Smith. If you listen carefully, though, you'll a few rare instances in which Duval walks his bass. The level of interplay among Finn, Duval, and Smith is commendably deep at all times.
If there is any weakness in Plaza De Toros, it lies in the similarity of the harmonic structure of many of the performances. Some of Finn's compositions sound as if they were constructed from an identical chord sequence or mode, so there's a certain sameness to much of the music. And the tempos seem to be either very fast or very slow, with nothing in between. Apart from those reservations, however, this CD offers free playing of the highest order.
Personnel: James Finn: tenor saxophone; Dominic Duval: bass; Warren Smith: drums,