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James Finn: Plaza de Toros

Here, the James Finn Trio-Finn, tenor sax; Dominic Duval, bass; Warren Smith, drums-takes a stab at program music: an aural depiction of a bullfight, complete with opening fanfare (“Torea de Capa”) and Spanish-sounding themes. Like many contemporary free-playing tenorists, Finn’s improvising and compositional concepts come largely out of late Coltrane. What distinguishes Finn is the musicality of his approach. While he indulges in his share of multiphonic screaming, he doesn’t overdo it. He counters his most violent statements with dynamically shaded episodes of melody made all the more powerful by his use of an exceedingly expressive vibrato.

Duval is in all probability the most nimble melodist among jazz bassists. He’s the perfect partner for Finn, engaging the saxophonist as would a second horn player. Warren Smith can do no wrong. He’s simultaneously exacting and loose, exciting yet often surprisingly understated: a master of the appropriate.

Finn is not wildly original (the Coltrane strain is refined but pronounced), but he’s authentically passionate and creative. I’m almost contemptuously disinterested in bullfighting, so I can’t speak to the effectiveness of the program. From a musical perspective, however, this is affecting stuff.

Originally Published