Moment and the Message-- Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense

Finlayson has recorded with such rising artists as Steve Lehman, Mary Halvorson, and David Virelles, but is best known for his long tenure with Steve Coleman's Five Elements, which he joined as an 18-year-old in 2000. The fluid and flexible trumpeter contributed greatly to Coleman's recent Functional Arrhythmias CD, a musical exploration of the inner workings of the human body, and his own belated debut, Moment and the Message, is largely inspired by the probing inner mind of the chess player, a strategy from whom his group's name is derived. The inquisitiveness and perpetual motion of Finlayson's music recalls at various times the works of Coleman, Henry Threadgill, and Dave Douglas, but he clearly places his personal stamp on all of it. Helping to bring Finlayson's nine compositions to vivid life are pianist Virelles, creator of the acclaimed 2012 Continuum CD, fellow Five Elements member Miles Okazaki on guitar, Keith Witty on bass, and impressive drummer Damion Reid, who has played with Lehman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Robert Glasper.

The playful, jagged theme of "Circus" encourages spurting trumpet figures, a repeating piano motif, actively shuffling drum patterns, and trickling guitar commentary. Finlayson's stop-and-start solo over this framework resolves satisfyingly with the provocative theme, intentionally reminiscent of Threadgill's music. Witty's bass and Virelles' piano hook up in counterpoint to launch "Lo Haze," with Okazaki's guitar lines soon joining them, followed by Finlayson, in a very vibrant and attractive textural mix. A complete pause leads to a fanfare-like main theme played by the trumpeter, whose swirling solo sails above the insistent motif maintained by piano and bass. Reid's drums react to these elements with zestful ingenuity, and he expands his vision in his own determined improv over that same ongoing motif. "Ruy Lopez" is named for the first eight moves of the well-known chess opening. A swaying ethereal melody is enhanced by Reid's exquisite brush work. Finlayson and Okazaki meet in a vigorous and copasetic contrapuntal discourse, after which Virelles and Witty do the same, just as stimulating. The closing section finds the quintet coming together and then vamping to allow for Reid's bristling tap dance, still exclusively on brushes.

Reid's drumming continues to stand out with its facility and receptiveness on the multi-faceted, intricate "Carthage." Okazaki latches on to a figure heard earlier as Finlayson thoroughly investigates the piece's many nooks and crannies with both patience and persistence. Okazaki is then unleashed to build a splendid, single-note statement. On "Tensegrity," the guitarist's hesitiant, stuttering intro on acoustic guitar precedes a marching, exclamatory theme and Finlayson's undulating solo. Okazaki comes next in more flowing, multi-noted fashion, and Virelles concisely expresses himself prior to the leader's equally succinct recap. Reid's snappish, prodding perambulations bring into play the tension alluded to by the composition's title. Virelles' mysterious opening to "Le Bas-Fond" (The Lower Depth), gives way to Finlayson's darting, staccato theme and more of the pianist's pronounced chordal musings. Okazaki's winding solo is compelling, as are Virelles' and Finlayson's thereafter. Elevating their impact immeasurably, however, is the dynamic teamwork of Witty and Reid.

The stair-stepping theme of "Tyre" is played by Finlayson with Okazaki's filigreed insertions. Virelles and the trumpeter develop animated, emphatic solos that are also actively punctuated by the guitarist. For "Fives and Pennies" each musician contributes sparse, dissonant, and foreboding designs in an elongated, interactive prelude. Finlayson then presents murky thematic lines that slowly increase in lucidity, substance, and appeal, while Virelles sustains a contrasting chiming, single-note backdrop. This absorbing nearly 13-minute track releases some tension at the eight-minute mark, opening up for somewhat breezier excursions from Okazaki and Virelles, and a full-out attack by Reid, only to revert back to its initial atmosphere in the end. "Scaean Gates" features a stalking, staccato rhythmic setup by Virelles, Witty, and Reid, which remains in place as Finlayson emerges with the theme and his subsequent scrutinizing variations thereof. Virelles' take focuses more on the possibilities inherent in the rhythmic foundation, before Finlayson returns to participate with the others in a spiky dialogue.

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Scott Albin