Monday, October 18, 2010

Undiscovered Masterpiece: James Finn

James Finn (sax; b. 1956)
Opening The Gates (Cadence Records; 2003)
Dominic Duval (bass)
Whit Dickey (drums)

James Finn is the surprise gem you find when you least expect it. When you think you're comfortable with the music you have and that you're going to settle in and focus on what you've got. Then a friend, an article, a record store clerk or just plain old intuition forces you take that extra step forward. This is what happened to me when I was given a copy of Opening The Gates (Cadence).

Opening The Gates is an amazing piece of work. It is bold statement from an artist who got a late start in recording under his own name but you would never know it by the muscle and inventiveness of this recording. The album was originally meant as a demo but record companies were so impressed with the power and strength of the recordings that there was a fight to sign him. Each track on the album is the first and only take (excluding one where they recorded it twice). And lucky for the listener the album remains intact as wonderful document of Free Jazz and a real masterpiece that should be heard by more people. So I'm telling everyone.

Finn's phrasing on the opening number "Stone Birds' Northward Helix" resembles the current beauty of David S. Ware (bold statement I know but you have to hear this record). Dickey and Duval play pivotal roles in shaping the undercurrent of Finn's messages. "Opening The Gates" Finn and Dicky fire through chord changes like buzz saws all the while keeping the number extremely tight and interesting.

On "Starlight Extensions" the trio wrap some complex structures in with what seems like some playful rhythms and it works well. Elsewhere, Duval really shines on "Spinning Pyramids Propelled" where his opening lines are almost Reggie Workman-esque. The spectre of Coltrane hovers throughout Opening The Gates but more so on "Spinning Pyramids Propelled" with Finn's playing becomes right in line with the latter period of the great legend.

"Prayer For The Dead" closes out the album with melodic style with some sparse pacing by Duval and beauty swathes of the drum kit by Dickey, while Finn adds the harder edge on the top. It's almost the counter argument to the album's opener.

Opening The Gates has hallmarks of great records by Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and aforementioned David S. Ware. The sound grows right of the NY Underground scene and is definitely one of those rare finds and a magnificent debut from an dynamic new voice that continues to recorded albeit slowly. Opening The Gates is destined to become one legendary masterpiece in years to come.

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