|One Final Note Review It’d be safe to say that the story of 2004 in creative improvised music is James Finn’s arrival as leader. Both Opening the Gates, his debut, and now Faith in a Seed, his sophomore follow-up, expose the sound of a relatively unheard musician suddenly exploding onto the scene, fully formed, with a voice both resonant of the past yet entirely of his own—everything that makes this music as good as it gets. Faith in a Seed is every bit as triumphant as Opening the Gates while providing further evidence that Finn’s music is the real thing. In many ways, Faith in a Seed is the superior of the two, more nuanced, more powerful.
The title track gets off to an elegiac start, an initial volley into meditative territory. There is a keening quality to Finn’s sound that is immediately arresting. He is matched well by bassist Dominic Duval and, new to this trio, Warren Smith on drums. Finn’s contributions are front and center, as he works the lower register of his sax to great effect. So powerful is his sound that comparisons to Coltrane and Ayler are not only inevitable, they are, as is rarely the case, accurate. Structurally, melodically, rhythmically, Finn is as different from the two men as they were from each other, but it is that sound that first hits a listener right between the ears.
“Struggling to See the Sun” begins with a wonderfully fluid statement from Duval, full of double stops and quick runs. He is one of the few bassists actually served well by the CIMP recording philosophy, able to project himself even in the heaviest of circumstances. Finn and Smith jump in at a moderately fast swing, with Finn doing quick thirty-second note flurries, arpeggios like rain trickling down a window, one drop a bit faster than another, chasing, merging with another as they race on.
“Willing Through Darkness” is a nice change of pace, with Smith taking up maracas to coax the sound from his set. It’s an often-used but effective technique that provides both a rounded sound as well as obscuring the actual point of impact with cymbal and drum. (It also brings out a bit of a “Spanish-tinge” in Finn’s playing that will be touched upon, one would assume, in the forthcoming Plaza de Toros, featuring this same trio.) Duval and Finn explore this sonic territory ably, more reserved than on the first two numbers, yet not without intensity of purpose. Duval bows tellingly throughout.
“A Weathered Spirit Resolute” may well be Finn’s theme song given that, at age 45, he is just now making his debut as leader. There is a suggestion in Bob Rusch’s liner notes that this rather late start is due to the “vagaries and/or politics of the field”. While that may be true, Rusch himself seems as puzzled as Finn about the relative anonymity of the latter’s work. Given Rusch’s own control of some of that “field”, it’s a rather odd and disingenuous comment to make. Isn’t it the role of label and publication owners to cultivate and promote new talent rather than be perplexed when it comes along?
That aside, “A Weathered Spirit Resolute” is well placed at the center of Faith in a Seed and evidence of the full range of musicianship this trio brings to the table. Smith plays most of the tune on the rims of his drums, hand-heavy (rather than heavy handed), only bringing his feet to bear every so often in the piece. Duval fills in the bottom end nicely while Finn gnaws away at a phrase from all conceivable sides, proving once again that the race is not always won by the fleet of foot. When he does hit, he hits hard, with undiluted power and emotional veracity.
It’s hard to tell where Finn will go from here. Those who have listened to his first two sets will no doubt wait with bated breath for his upcoming trio release. The trio format certainly serves Finn well, and he has found ideal partners in Duval and Smith. The challenge of adding another horn would be a welcome addition at some point, though. Here’s hoping that Finn gives Roy Campbell a call.