Steve Coleman’s concepts of interlocking melodies and odd time signatures can be enough of a challenge for a musician. Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson has not only mastered these lessons in the saxophonist’s band, but he’s using his acquired skills to move several steps further and develop an original voice as a writer and improviser. The music on 3 Times Round, his third album as a leader, often feels complex, with melodies from three horns flying from every angle. At the same time, he infuses his writing with strong lyrical qualities, many of which come from his pure, rich trumpet tone.
After two albums as the sole horn in his Sicilian Defense group, Finlayson brings two equally strong personalities to share the frontline: alto saxophonist Steve Lehman and tenor saxophonist/flutist Brian Settles. Pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist John Hébert, and drummer Craig Weinrib carry over from Sicilian Defense. Two longer compositions reveal the rich qualities of Finlayson’s scope. “The Moon Is New” continually returns to a haunting piano figure following pregnant pauses and extended solos by the horns and Mitchell. The pianist also sets the tone in “A Stone, a Pond, a Thought,” with a flowing rubato figure and a lengthy theme that leads to some intense bowing from Hébert. Throughout the album, the contrast between Lehman’s tart tone and Settles’ occasionally gruff execution provides a diverse sound, especially when combined with Finlayson’s crisp tone. This happens most notably on “Feints,” with its rapid melody lines and the way the horns play leapfrog with each other as they solo.
It takes several listens to discover how everything comes together in Finlayson’s music. But it’s hard to walk away from this combination of accessibility and intricacy anyway.