Jonathan Finlayson – ‘3 Times Round’ (Album Review)

Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson as a composer and arranger knows quite a bit about interlocking rhythms. Finlayson’s work has always had a driving momentum to it, forging ahead and exploring almost unceasingly, as a sideman with groups of the same musical philosophies and as a leader applying the lessons learned from his considerable resume working with modern masters like Henry Threadgill, Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer, and Dafnis Prieto for his young 36 years on Earth. Though his own personal works are relatively few, he has been a clear presence as a sideman and always as a player, which makes his own releases as a leader all the more exciting to hear. Thus, 3 Times Round, out now on Pi Recordings, is the latest Finlayson’s works giving beat to abstraction, form to chaos, clear ringing tones in the midst of clatter, and the typical brilliance from one of the finest, most distinct trumpet players of our day.

As opposed to his previous quintet album, 2016’s Moving Still, Finlayson has expanded his sound to a sextet with three horns to fill out the heads and give alto saxophonist Steve Lehman and tenor saxophonist/flutist Brian Settles their own turns at solos alongside usual compatriots pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist John Hébert and drummer Craig Weinrib. This is a band who share the same notions about jazz– its possibility for more than the preconceived ideas of the genre, its insistence on living and breathing with the music, the notion that musical ideas of many sorts are more palatable when set to a steady beat. This group fits and plays together well, in part because the Finlayson’s arrangements are like jigsaw puzzles that charm the listener with their elegance.

The top half of this seven song album has most of the longer compositions, the grander statements where everyone gets their shot to shine in these compositions that are very much jazz but don’t feel too afar off from chamber-inspired music. “Grass” starts off the album at a steady clip, full of energy and ready to give this band a spin. “A Stone, A Pond, A Thought” swells as it lurches forward, with Hébert’s bass finding some incredibly impressive moments. It’s a contemplative piece with a lot of power when this group plays as a collective or through their may fragmented parts. Album centerpiece “The Moon is New” is a 14-minute epic, giving each member of the sextet a shot at such tremendous force of this bellowing head before all of them eventually fade out. The cycle of this song keeps rolling until completed, but there’s that feeling that it could simply keep going as if the music were a perpetual energy source. This then gives way to the smoother, swinging (as much swinging as things go here) “Refined Strut”, a lush four-and-a-half minute marvel that seems to fade away too soon. Closer “Tap-Tap” is a quick march of amazingness that stops on the 1 as if it were a James Brown song with just as much jam in it.

Altogether, Jonathan Finlayson has once again made the perfect album that highlights his sensibilities as a player, composer, and a bandleader, as well as one that highlights the voices of his bandmates. It’s always great to hear any time Steve Lehman makes a spirited run on the alto saxophone. Matt Mitchell has always been an interesting, complicated player who fits best in groups who apply his particular style of play to give form to his abstraction. Yet it’s Finlayson who plays so assuredly not only because he has something to say but because he so well arranged with whom he is saying it. One should have little doubt that Jonathan Finlayson can deliver, he always has, but the immense charm of 3 Times Round is still very much a surprise at the level at which Finlayson does.

3 Times Round’, the new album from trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, is out now on Pi Recordings.

Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet
Steve Lehman: alto saxophone
Brian Settles: tenor saxophone and flute
Matt Mitchell: piano
John Hébert: bass
Craig Weinrib: drums