Following on the heels of Nick Finzer’s 2020 Release Cast of Characters; the trombonist and composer found himself with more time to focus on himself and his artistry than he anticipated, leading to a boon of creative practice curated by the lockdowns that the year had to offer.
“Rather than sit at home and complain” says Finzer “I decided to see what projects I could dream up that might only take place when you can’t be in the same place as your usual collaborators.” The result is a wide-ranging exploration of settings that the 2020 Downbeat Rising Star Trombonist has yet to explore on his new 2021 release Out of Focus.
The first in this stream of collaborations features NYC Multi-Instrumentalist Dr. Reginald Chapman and Finzer’s colleague from the University of North Texas - drummer Quincy Davis - in a reimagined version of the Kenny Garrett composition Sing a Song of Songs “... this tune was burned into my brain from listening to [Kenny Garrett’s] 1997 Songbook album! That record was on repeat for years in my first car… I’d always wanted to have a chance to explore some of his compositions… and I figured now was my chance!” Finzer noted.
Next, we find a new interpretation of the Duke Ellington classic from his Such Sweet Thunder Suite - The Star Crossed Lovers arranged for five trombones. “Ellington’s music has always been a huge inspiration to me... his sense for creating drama with this melodies constantly inspires me as an artist” Finzer recalled. “I wanted to explore the possibility of this piece with different timbres of trombone playing.” Finzer’s interpretation calls to mind the plunger mute vocalizations of long-time Ellington sideman and trombone innovator “Tricky” Sam Nanton. “Playing the pixie mute/plunger combination is something I’m borrowing from the legacy of my teachers: Steve Turre and Wycliffe Gordon. It’s a skill set that not everyone investigates… but I love the sonic possibilities it provides”
The two traditional jazz quartet settings on the album feature the stellar rhythm section of Xavier Davis on piano, Jay Anderson on bass, and Quincy Davis on drums playing two brand new arrangements of classics from the jazz canon: Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust and Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life. “These virtual collaborations were a unique opportunity to connect with musicians I played with in New York, that the pandemic certainly put a pause on... “ Finzer explained, “I wanted to find ways to present some of my all-time favorite tunes from all over the jazz spectrum, and feature the trombone when and where it isn’t always expected…”
Rounding out the album is a 15-Trombone Arrangement of another Ellington classic Mood Indigo featuring the addition of Bass Trombonist Jennifer Wharton (leader of her own trombone group: Bonegasm, as well as Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society) and a collection of solo pieces including Laura, Single Petal of a Rose, and JJ Johnson’s Judy. “Playing solo arrangements on trombone can be a terrifying experience… there’s nowhere to hide… every note you play is right out there for everyone to hear. And even then, you’re solely responsible for creating all of the melodic, harmonic, and musical intrigue! It was one of the biggest challenges for me musically to develop a clearer sense of solo playing on the trombone.”
On Out of Focus Finzer puts his compositional pen to the side, to explore many compositions that have informed his growth as an artist since his early days as a trombonist. This collection of pieces is a document of a time in our history known colloquially by some as “the great pause” - and the process of focusing on his artistry created an outlet for the stress and anxiety that the lockdowns presented us all. “It took a long time to make this statement for me… the overwhelm was real last year. I’m very glad I persisted here and now have the chance to share some music that I really love, with the community.
Out of Focus releases on Outside in Music on November 12th, 2021