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James Finn Releases Plaza de Toros on Clean Feed Records

James Finn James Finn

Tenor saxophonist James Finn not only composed, arranged, and performed brilliantly, but he also produced, engineered, mixed, and mastered this CD single-handedly. Plaza de Toros also features bassist Dominic Duval -Downbeat Magazine’s 2003 'Talent Deserving Wider Recognition' along with legendary percussionist Warren Smith. In the liner notes, Frank Rubolino writes,"James crafts a masterful conceptual portrait overflowing with potency and warmth. The music of three exceptional musicians merges into one harmonious outpouring of stimulating beauty."

Here is what the first reviewers have said:

"James Finn has rapidly established himself as a player to watch, or rather listen to ...his trio is one of the most exciting working units in contemporary jazz ....you should treat yourself to a seat in this particular Plaza de Toros at the earliest opportunity."

- Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic, Plaza de Toros

"Finn reveals a talent and passion for improvised music played at an extraordinarily high level."

- Mark Corroto, All About Jazz, June 2005, Plaza de Toros

"...emerge into this "new day" of music that rides the edge. Simply superb compositions; the album draws immediate MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from this reviewer! GET this one! "

- Rotcod Zzaj , Improvijazzation Nation, Issue #72, Plaza de Toros

"Finn's tenor sax playing has a fascinating flow, employing elements of Coltrane's harmonic sense, Sonny Rollins's use of rhythm, and Ayler's emotional intensity. This is an excellent recording and I'm looking forward to his next release."

- Alan Lankin, Jazzmatatazz, Plaza de Toros

"These recordings picked up where late-period Coltrane left off and Finn's playing is characterized by nearly continuous forward momentum and a charismatic presence bolstered by fresh material and the leader's purposeful seriousness ...he is a free jazz talent to be reckoned with."

- Jeff Stockton, All About Jazz NY, June 2005,

James Finn has graced the world stage from London’s Royal Albert Hall to New York City’s Avery Fisher Hall and is endorsed by some of history’s greatest saxophonists such as Jimmy Heath and Benny Golson. He is becoming recognized as a virtuoso with something fresh and exciting to contribute to jazz. Although he is well versed in many styles - classical, swing, bebop, post bop, latin, R&B, funk, blues, and more - James insists that his musicians play their 'soul’s song...in the breath of the moment free of any stylistic guidelines or preconceptions.’ The listener receives music that is always fresh with conviction, urgency, and heart.


Frank Rubolino writes, "For this venture, James chose to capture in music the essence of the bullfight in all its radiant glory. The bullfight is the life and breath of Spain. It has a tradition dating back several thousand years when Greek and Roman influences transformed religious sacrifice into a spectacular for the people. It is passionately endorsed by that country’s populace. The sport is majestic, regal, and a skilled work of choreographed artistry. In keeping with those qualities, James has generated a stunning work of musical art depicting the power, emotions, and elation emerging from the contest."


If you listen closely, you can almost hear the inner struggle between the characters. James says, "In this story, the matador comes to realize that this bullfight was more than just 'man conquering beast.' As they each try to anticipate and outwit the other, it is revealed to the matador that their consciousness’ are entwined. In the finale, the matador is hailed as the hero: he realizes, however, that it is the relentless and crafty Toro Bravo facing death so courageously who is the true hero. This theme was conceived while living in Spanish Harlem just prior to this recording. The making of this album came together like a seamless dream. In that moment, we lived it ...the first time that we played together as a trio. The sparks were flying. You could almost smell the dirt ...every track made in one take."

James Finn's compelling and fascinating musical journey has taken him from his native New York City to Texas, Russia, Paris, London and finally full circle, back to New York, where he works in a constant flourish of musical activity at his Gingko Tree Studio. A self-taught improviser who jumped into a life of music at age 8, he has performed and studied a wide range of music, from R&B and the blues to jazz and classical. A graduate of Empire State College (where he studied with drum legend Andrew Cyrille) and Queens College (where Jimmy Heath gave him invaluable inspiration), he was also greatly influenced by deep musical friendships with saxophonist JR Monterose and multi-instrumentalist Arthur Rhames.

Along the way he has studied Tai Chi, Qigong and Wu Bu meditation and other various eastern and western spiritual disiplines; developed his own twelve-tone theory; worked for a prison substance abuse program; taught high school and college orchestras; and built a successful private studio of piano students. His travels and the amazing, sometimes dramatic turns in his life all emanate from his saxophone when he plays. After decades of performing, growing and expressing himself, he finally recorded his first album, Opening The Gates (Cadence Records), in 2003 and hasn't looked back since, with three albums released within thirteen months, and critical praise following each new release. He's making up for found time.

Tibetan author Sogyal Rinpoche wrote:


"Art, in its highest manifestation, is a reflection of nature."


James Finn's first three CDs, made within months of each other, reflect this statement. They demonstrate freely improvised music composition that is completely organized and document the first use in jazz of direct proportional geometries found in nature ...for example, the Fibonacci series and the golden section. "I began exploring the possibility of applying particular mathematical elements to various compositional ideas back in 1984. After a series of epiphanies in 1992, I felt a strong need to deconstruct everything that I knew about harmony and develop a completely new theoretical system for myself from the ground up. This new approach was based on revelations experienced during a Lakota Indian vision quest. For the next twelve years, I explored this system intensively as well as its syntax - not expecting it would or could ever really be applied within a jazz group context. After finally achieving technical fluency, I dismissed it and now play with complete freedom and total liberation. Hindsight reveals it to be a lesson in learning to trust and follow my inner voice and to embark and persevere on a journey without a planned destiny or goal ...into the forest, so to speak."


"In the album, Plaza de Toros, various architectures can be found throughout. A favorite occurs in the opening theme of the piece entitled Plaza de Toros. Years ago, while living in the mountains near Woodstock, NY, we were visited by the seventeen-year cicada. Well, if you’ve ever heard them, you will concur that they make a torrent of sound. I took my saxophone out into the middle of a meadow and joined in uninvited into their alien symphony. I found to my amazement that they, millions - possibly billions of them, were singing in waves on a scale pitched in D-flat that was a complete mirror of itself. Bela Bartok called this the golden scale. It has also been referred to by some musicologists as the Hungarian major scale. I used this scale in the theme of the piece entitled Plaza de Toros. I also used this scale in the theme of Opening the Gates - my first album. Another favorite architecture in Plaza de Toros occurs in the opening statement of El Tercio de Vanderillas. I stated a four-note motif and followed with its mirror reflection to announce the ensuing stage - symbolically representing on a variety of levels: the pairs of darts or banderillas wielded by the matador: the pronate horns of the bull; the mirror of the circular movement and strategies of the opponents."


What is your feeling on the role of musical influences and the state of jazz? "My music embraces my influences the same way that I’ve embrace friends and family who have passed. They are a part of my spirit and in some instances, I am of theirs. Charlie Parker showed me how to speak with the horn and John Coltrane showed me how to pray with it. One could look at the body of all jazz history as a mountain of inspiration. I would like my work to be considered a part of that mountain. As far as the state of jazz ...there are many new frontiers yet to explore in jazz."


Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: James Finn
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