Nick Finzer ‘Hear & Now’ (Outside In Music) 4/5

‘Hear & Now’ is trombonist/composer Nick Finzer’s third album and features eight originals plus a Duke Ellington classic. Finzer’s compositions are brought to life with a brooding, intelligent intensity with the help of saxophonist/clarinetist Lucas Pino, guitarist Alex Wintz, pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Dave Baron, and drummer Jimmy McBride. This might be a small ensemble but together they make a beautiful, and at times big luscious sound. They achieve the power and wide ranging palette of a big band but the subtlety of a smaller band. The music itself is expertly written and performed, successfully capturing light and dark moods with moments of defiant optimism through to deeper, darker moments of expressive desperation.
This album arrives at a time of deep uncertainty and divisiveness in America and around the world. Finzer’s music reflects this mood very well, depicting a range of viable reactions, from the intense energy of protest, to a more meditative, reflective tone. “I wanted to capture feelings I was having about our country’s social framework,” Finzer says. “I started out trying to write about the emotional feeling of living in New York in 2016, but as the presidential election went on I realised that the stances I was taking were more politically oriented. Throughout the process of making the record I saw that this project was becoming more and more relevant to our reality.”

The composer doesn’t name names or point fingers, it is instead a plea for a more united populace a sonic argument for equality, tolerance and empathy. From a listener’s point of view the meaning behind any music can often be rendered irrelevant by the music itself. But on this occasion, as I listen intently to the thoughtful, questioning, reflective nature of the music, I find myself totally drawn in and engulfed by the emotive power and integrity of it all. The mood fits the meaning perfectly, proving beyond doubt that the composer’s thoughts and intentions have been wonderfully crafted into a musical vision that is both rewarding and highly enjoyable to this listener’s ears.

The album begins with “We The People”, acting as a reminder that togetherness is embodied in the country’s founding documents. The brooding, introspective “The Silent One” follows. This piece was inspired by Finzer’s frustrations over a tendency to resort to heated emotions rather than logic and subtlety in reacting to issues and problems. The more frenetic, harried pace of “Race To The Bottom” is followed by the more uplifting, hopeful mood of “New Beginnings”, with its uplifting and optimistic tones. “Lullaby for an old friend” is stunningly beautiful, wrapped up in its gorgeous melancholia. It is happy and sad all at the same time, bringing to mind how we all feel when thinking of a friend we have lost. The up-tempo “Dance of Persistence” is a swinging call to action, relieving the tension and letting things go. The album closes with “Love Wins”, an elegant and beautiful piece of music written with a strong belief that ultimately the forces of love will overcome ignorance, oppression and prejudice.

The writing, arrangements and skill of the performers all come together as a unified statement of musical vision, belief and confidence throughout the whole recording. Worthy of note is the fact that that the album is co-produced by Ryan Truesdell, leader of the renowned Gil Evans Project and producer for Maria Schneider. “Asking Ryan to co-produce the album ended up probably being the best decision in the process of making my record,” Finzer says. “He was able to bring out extra nuances and had a great ear for making sure that we didn’t miss the chance to create a magical musical moment.” I couldn’t agree more.

On a final note, I’d like to share this: When I first listened to “Hear & Now”, before reading any notes or explanations of what the music was about, I was immediately reminded of Wayne Shorter’s classic album “Night Dreamer”. Released in 1964, for me it shares a very similar mood and intention. Not so much for the style or sound, but for the character, the feeling, and the climate of our times, it certainly resonates with me. Shorter commented about his writing for that album; “What I’m trying to express here is a sense of judgement approaching- judgement for everything alive from ant to man. I know that the accepted meaning of ‘Armageddon’ is the last battle between good and evil- whatever it is. But my definition of the judgement to come is a period of total enlightenment in which we will discover what we are and why we’re here.” Nick Finzer’s “Hear & Now” evokes similar thoughts. A mighty fine album in many ways.

Mike Gates