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Last year, after a stint in Ben Harper's band, tenor man James Finn sprang onto the jazz scene at the age of nearly forty as a fully-formed free improviser, with a trio completed by bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Whit Dickey. Opening the Gates (Cadence Records) was quickly followed by Faith in a Seed (CIMP), the drum chair now filled by veteran Warren Smith. These recordings picked up where late-period Coltrane left off, and Finn's playing is characterized by nearly continuous forward momentum and a charismatic presence, bolstered by fresh material and the leader's purposeful seriousness. Plaza de Toros, his third release in quick succession, represents in sound the stages of a bullfight. With its Latin-tinged melodies, the comparison now runs closer to Ivo Perelman, and while Finn's tone is a little thinner than Perelman's, Finn's conception is arguably more focused and powerful.
"Toreo de Capa opens with the swagger of the matador, Finn playing nearly in the range of a trumpet, soloing vibrantly on top of Smith's dramatically rolling drums and splashing cymbals. Finn's vibrato spins out into overblowing on the title composition, which serves as an overture to the confrontation, contrasting aggressive squeals with repose. Duval (also the bassist in Perelman's recent trios) lends his characteristic arco style to dialogues with Finn on "The Phantom Bull of Seville and the whispery "El Tercio de Varas. As the drama approaches finality, Smith punctuates the air on "La Estocada and his extended percussion solo on "Toro Bravo relieves the tension, before Finn's concluding fanfare clears it away.
The plot of Plaza de Toros unfurls like a matador's cape and conveys the pride, dignity, ceremony, and style of the bullfight. In the midst of the violence, "Eyes of Angelina is a relatively brief lyrical passage that simply sings. Perhaps there is more of the Gentle Side of James Finn. In the meantime, he is a free jazz talent to be reckoned with.
Track Listing: 1 Toreo de Capa; 2 Plaza de Toros; 3 The Phantom Bull of Seville; 4 El Tercio de Varas; 5 Eyes of Angelina; 6 El Tercio de Vanderillas; 7 El Tercio de Muleta; 8 La Estocada; 9 Toro Bravo