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Jonathan Finlayson: The Chess Player

Trumpeter takes no prisoners on his highly anticipated debut

Anyone who’s heard Steve Coleman and Five Elements in the past dozen years has come to grips with trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, a player with studious poise and formidable chops. From Alternate Dimension Series I and Resistance Is Futile, his earliest Five Elements dates, to the sustained brilliance of Coleman’s 2013 Pi release, Functional Arrhythmias, Finlayson has proved indispensable to one of music’s most rhythmically demanding ensembles. In recent years he’s also been called upon for Steve Lehman’s quintet and octet, Tomas Fujiwara’s the Hook Up, Mary Halvorson’s quintet (now septet as well) and other influential units.

But with Moment and the Message (Pi), Finlayson, 31, has at last debuted as a leader. Sicilian Defense, his quintet, takes its name from a maneuver in chess. The track “Ruy Lopez,” also named for a chess opening, assigns rhythmic values to the game pieces and translates their movements into music. “It’s kind of a prototype,” Finlayson says. “The improvisation shows the conversation of the black and white pieces. So when [guitarist] Miles [Okazaki] starts and then I play, I’m playing the black pieces and he’s playing the white pieces. At the very end of the form we switch. Same thing for the piano and bass.”

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