Jonathan Finlayson – 3 Times Round (Pi)

3 Times Round, the third album from the genial and gloriously adept trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, overflows with striking musicianship and technical acumen. That’s one reason it fits snugly alongside the hardcore innovations of Vijay Iyer’s sextet and especially Steve Coleman’s Five Elements. (Coleman, Finlayson’s mentor, hired the then 18-year-old trumpeter in 2000, and he has been there ever since.) The album-opening “Feints” bursts out of the blocks with a stutter-step propulsion that Iyer has practically trademarked, while the antiphonally arranged theme and juggernaut solos recall Coleman’s M-Base methodology. Adding to the comparisons, Finlayson’s sextet stars alto saxophonist Steve Lehman, who builds on Coleman’s influence with fearsome fluency and escalating intensity (and who is also a founding member of Iyer’s sextet). Relative newcomer Brian Settles on tenor saxophone and flute rounds out the front line.

So on first listen, those of us who admire this style — much of it marked by angular, nearly brutalist melodies and a relentless pulse — may wish for music that diverges more obviously from the work of those influencers. That complaint would be unfair: Jazz history teems with musicians who, initially compared unfavorably to an idiom’s creators, made records no less effective or affecting for having an obvious precedent. And in any case, a deeper dive into this album yields insights about what the grandly soulful Finlayson has to offer.

The gently rolling, practically pastoral “A Stone, a Pond, a Thought” justifies its title; the sensational rhythm section (pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist John Hebert and drummer Craig Weinrib) supplies a rubato undertow for the horns’ chorale before a sterling bowed bass spotlight. Finlayson’s most impressive detour takes place on “The Moon Is New,” a 14-minute suite in four parts. The fast piano arpeggios and rubato aftermath that introduce the piece make it probably the most accessible here, but even the up-tempo segments — especially when Finlayson’s trumpet takes center stage, and when Mitchell fully embraces his own melodicism — bring warmth and lyricism to music that can grow brittle in the wrong hands. —Neil Tesser

Feature photo by John Rogers.

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