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Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: Moment and the Message

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Through the tricky patterns, sudden thematic shifts and stylistic swaps on Jonathan Finlayson’s impressive debut album, one thing remains constant: the cool sense of refinement he brings to the music. Stepping out of his supporting roles in the bands of Steve Coleman and Mary Halvorson, alongside a pair of brilliant up-and-comers in pianist David Virelles and guitarist Miles Okazaki, the young trumpeter sounds fully in his element. His compositions stand out not only on a track-by-track basis, but also in the way they rub off on each other in adding up to a cohesive whole.

An obvious (and acknowledged) influence is Henry Threadgill, whose elliptical melodies and airy, skittering rhythms inform tunes such as “Circus.” And Finlayson’s sound on trumpet owes a lot to Dave Douglas with its broad tones and assertive, centered quality. But the more you listen to Moment and the Message, the more its idiosyncrasies take hold, whether the band achieves a kind of stillness in motion rooted to Virelles’ stately chiming chords and spare comping or stops a song in its tracks and restarts it in a completely different vein.

Finlayson doesn’t have much use for ballads, wasting little time in picking up the pace and complexity of the slow stuff. On the other hand, he demonstrates consummate patience on the nearly 13-minute “Fives and Pennies,” which gains intensity with clockwork precision. A muscular soloist, Okazaki adds variety to the textures with resophonic and choked-string effects and Spanish-style lyricism. Throughout, the music gains buoyancy and depth from bassist Keith Witty and drummer Damion Reid, whose jet-stream strokes are positively Elvin-like.

Originally Published