CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

Nick Finzer: Cast of Characters (Outside In)

A review of the trombonist-led sextet album

Nick Finzer, Cast of Characters
The cover of Cast of Characters by Nick Finzer

For trombone enthusiasts, the second decade of the new millennium has been a rich period. The list of emerging badasses includes Gianluca Petrella, Michael Dease, Filippo Vignato, Alan Ferber, and John Yao. Add Nick Finzer. Cast of Characters is impressive for its ambition and even more for its realization.

Finzer is a quick, commanding trombonist, with a darkly glowing tone. But like one of his great instrumental antecedents, Bob Brookmeyer, his true calling is composing and arranging. This album has a theme: the influences that formative figures exert on our lives. Finzer does not name his own mentors; the movements of his suite have titles like “A Sorcerer,” “The Weatherman,” and “The Guru.” He says, “The characters represent the archetypes of people we encounter throughout our lives. I want listeners to project their own experiences onto this storyline.”

Finzer’s personal storyline contains resonant melodies, intriguing harmonies, and diverse moods. With only a sextet, he achieves remarkable breadth and depth. Counterlines intersect and overlay; targeted calls provoke specific responses; instruments shift in the counterpoint between foreground and background.

The players are Lucas Pino (reeds), Alex Wintz (guitar), Glenn Zaleski (piano), Dave Baron (bass), and Jimmy Macbride (drums). They have been together eight years and sound like it. On pieces like the convoluted “Brutus” and the hovering, gradually intensifying “Patience, Patience,” Finzer works like a painter, building up intricate designs as he adds contrasting and complementary details. “Venus” contains many motivic elements, all unified as lyricism. There are also tunes like the hard-charging “Evolution of Perspective” that allow these selfless ensemble players to assert themselves as soloists. Zaleski, especially, is on point.

Two names in the fine print deserve a shout-out. Producer Ryan Truesdell and engineer Aaron Nevezie are responsible for the high polish on this project and for the excellent recorded sound, respectively.

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Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.