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Trombonist Nick Finzer's fifth album as a leader is a strong testament to his musical influences expressed by through-designed compositions and lively interplay. On Cast of Characters , the New York-based musician, composer and label owner has gathered all of his forces together to deliver a concentrated, conceptual exercise in arrangement and instrumentation, which lives off of the impeccable performances of the individual musicians as much as it does off of the compositional material at hand.
Traditional swing-and classic bop language isn't as much hidden in plain sight here as it is found revamped and transformed, appearing prominently within meticulous arrangements and hearty solos. Like progressive arrangers before him (pioneers Maria Schneider or Bob Brookmeyer come to mind) Finzer is able to illustrate intimate settings and transparent conversations throughout each and every bar, no matter at what pace the song progresses or how many instruments are involved. The variety in tone and timbre the sextet is able to draw from their individual instruments and charts offers up all the shades of the spectrum.
Corresponding to the instrumentation (or vice versa), the music here is conceptually bound by a "cast of six characters"Duke Ellington, another arranger-legend, being among them. But Finzer doesn't merely pay tribute to past accomplishments. By adding "the journey" in between cast introductions, great ideas of the past are re-contextualized and developed upon, ultimately forming new assumptions in a modern light.
Take the drum driven break guiding the trombone solo out of the melodically and rhythmically multi-layered theme of "A Sorcerer (Is A Myth)" for example. Or the back and forth swinging interval of a second, breaking open the structure of "The Guru" before diving down sweet harmonic changes. A more down to earth and traditionally swinging approach characterizes the confidently strutting Ellington-homage "A Duke," but is immediately contrasted by the surprising yet effective modernist exhibition "(Take The) Fork In The Road"a percussive drum 'n' bass foundation and minimal harmonic shifts swathing pointillistic reed and brass. As soon as an idea seems safe, something slightly different and original is introduceda new perspective that grabs the listener's attention, leading it from measure-to-measure, note-to-note and character-to-character.
The sublime results heard on Cast of Characters are of course also rooted in the quality of the individual musicians, whose performances are spot on and unique throughout. The sonic aspects follow suit and see the trombone's full yet agile body maneuvering through crisp percussion and rare delayed guitar tweaks, making for an exciting yet overall coherent production (producers and engineers Ryan Truesdell, Aaron Nevezie and Dave Darlington). A very special accomplishment from start to finish.
A Sorcerer; Intro to...; Evolution of
Perspective; Brutus; Intro to...; Patience,
Patience; A Duke; (Take The) Fork
In the Road;
The Weatherman; Venus; Intro to...;
You'll Never Know The Alternative; The
Guru; We're More Than The Sum