Listening to the music of Jonathan Finlayson is kind of like being in the audience of a TED Talk where the entire house is packed with PhDs. You understand the presenter is operating on a higher level, and so the acquisition of knowledge requires attention and some discipline. But you come to expect a challenge from this trumpeter/composer. Schooled the past 18 years as a member of Steve Coleman's Five Elements, Finlayson delivers music with a surgical precision, as evidenced on his third release as a leader.
3 Times Round follows Moving Still (Pi Recordings, 2016) and Moment And The Message (Pi Recordings, 2013) both recorded with his ensemble Sicilian Defense. The lineup has shifted from trumpet/guitar/piano/bass/drums to Finlayson plus two saxophonists, Steve Lehman and Brian Settles, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist John Hébert, and drummer Craig Weinrib. The connections between these artists can be threaded through Coleman, Mary Halvorson, Tomas Fujiwara, Henry Threadgill, and Lehman's ensembles. They form a kind of philosophers' club, navigating Finlayson's compositions, while having an intramural discourse.
Take a composition like "The Moon Is New," which opens with Mitchell both sprinkling left hand notes and thumping some right before it gives way to Hébert's bowed bass until the business end announces itself. Finlayson, plus the saxophones, proceed to construct a braided sound-work with brief solos and even a full stop. Like collaborations with both Coleman and Lehman, the trumpeter loves precision but doesn't eschew the precarious. His tone on "Refined Strut" borrows from chamber music and maybe also takes us on a little cinematic journey. Finlayson loves to create Houdini-like situations with unique harmonies and time signatures for his ensemble to negotiate. The listener is given the desirable task of musical scholarship, in other words, a great listening experience.
Feints; Grass; A Stone, a Pond, a Thought; The Moon is New; Refined Strut; Rope From the Sky; Tap-Tap.
Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Steve Lehman: Grass; Brian Settles: tenor saxophone; Matt Mitchell: piano; John Hébert: bass;
Craig Weinrib: drums.