Thursday, 18 June 2009

James Finn, Dominic Duval, Warren Smith...

Here's a review of an interesting disc by a relatively new voice. Old time free-jazz, but played with plenty of conviction, and a good excuse to try out an extended bullfighting metaphor...

Plaza De Toros

Toreo de Capa; Plaza de Toros; The Phantom Bull of Seville; El Tercio de Varas; Eyes of Angelina; El Tercio de Vanderillas; El Tercio de Muleta; La Estocada; Toro Bravo

James Finn (ts); Dominic Duval (b); Warren Smith (d), (12/03).

The parallels between bull fighting and free jazz are not inconsiderable. Both involve the playing out of a passionate drama, both demand high levels of concentration by the protagonists to avoid unecessary risks, both divide the public, and both can be painful spectator sports. Tenor saxophonist James Finn is a relative newcomer and has escaped my radar until now. A release apiece on both CIMP and Cadence is about all you’ll find of him on disc find at the moment, but Finn seems to be anything but a green gilled newcomer.

Plaza de Toros is his conceptual portrait of the various stages and rituals of Spanish bullfighting. Joined by regular associates Domininc Duval and Warren Smith, the trio are well equipped to negotiate the troughs and peaks of this imaginary spectacle. Finn has a huge tone that has the gruff burred edges of Rollins. His style is far more direct and emotionally immediate however, somewhere between late Coltrane and early Frank Wright. The music is certainly loose, but never out of control. Finn, like an experienced Matador, knows just when to make his move to deliver the coup de grace. At times the trio appear to be shadowing the beast, waiting for the crucial moment to attack with one collective adrenaline surge. The opening ‘Toreo de Capa’ represents the first encounter by the Matador with the bull, the trio setting the scene as if sizing up the task ahead. Duval plays a guitar-like chord formation that recalls Jimmy Garrison, whilst Smith provides sudden flutters of movement. We then go through all of the various stages of the ritual, climaxing in the collective elation of “el Tercio de Vanderillas” - the ultimate confrontation.

By the time we get to “Toro Bravo”, the moment where the courage of both man and beast are applauded by the crowd, we’re left slightly bruised, pondering the drama of a sport without a true winner. Even without the overarching concept this would stand up as quality neo free-jazz, a victory for all three of the strong personalities involved. I often suspect that a lot of fakers are currently playing in this increasingly popular idiom. Happily, Finn doesn’t seem to be one of them. Recommended.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, July 2005)

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