Monday, December 26, 2016

Jonathan Finlayson and Sicilian Defense - Moving Still (Pi Recordings, 2016)

Jonathan Finlayson’s band, Sicilian Defense, consists of the leader on trumpet, Miles Okazaki on guitar, Matt Mitchell on piano, John Hébert on bass and Craig Weinrib on drums. The band is multifaceted and sounds much bigger than a quintet, and the music is complex yet accessible. Finlayson’s compositional style is unique and allows much freedom for the players to make their mark, both soloing and as part of the ensemble. “All of the Pieces” has a gentle guitar opening, with a nice full band entry led by punchy trumpet. They develop a mysterious sound with a fine blend of instruments, and the guitar is at the center. There is excellent fast paced trumpet feature arcing through the music over insistent drumming, and the music becomes becomes lush with piano and subtle drumming.  Heavy drumming underpins the performance of “Flank and Center” creating an expansive full band experience with brash trumpet in the lead role. Slashing rhythm and taut bass also give the music a propulsive feel. “Space And” builds from stark piano chords, and develops a fine rhythm with the bass and drums and medium tempo and the leader’s trumpet gaining force. There is a strong well thought out arrangement for the full band, with guitar and piano bubbling up out of the mix, giving the music and urgent feel. The music shifts to a section for rhythmic piano, elastic bass and drumming, before there is a dramatic full band return with a trumpet fanfare that develops into a very impressive solo. The music on “Cap vs. Nim” is quite intricate and well balanced and has some darker colors mixed in to give the musicians a finer selection of options to improvise upon, like droplets of piano which fall across subtle bass and drums. Okazaki’s guitar breaks out for a muted solo and interacts well with the rhythm section. Finlayson’s trumpet builds back in with a powerful calling, sounding strong and muscular as his trumpet solo takes command. “Between Moves” has subtle strings set the pace, guitar and bass. Gentle acoustic guitar and bass make fine texture and bowed bass increases that feel. The trumpet enters and soars in confidently, keeping the stark medium tempo, and arcs over the music in a powerful solo statement, before the music fades out slowly. Finally, “Folk Song” has a medium tempo and a memorable melody from the full band. The sound is spacious and wide open for a well controlled trumpet solo over subtle piano, bass and drums. After a series of solos there is a section for the rhythm unit to increase the pace, adding tension and making the concluding trumpet solo all the more potent. The music was challenging to the players in order to keep things fresh and curious, and the band members respond in kind with a high level of proficiency. Moving Still -

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