Thursday, April 1, 2010

Instrumental CD of the Month - "Barry Finnerty: Blues for Trane"

Instrumental CD of the Month
Barry Finnerty: "Blues for Trane" (Cheetah/Pony Canyon) 2010

Rating: ***** (performance & sound)

Featuring: David Kikoski (acoustic piano & Fender Rhodes), Ron McClure (acoustic bass), Victor Jones & Graham Hawthorne (drums) and Chuggy Carter (percussion)
Produced by Barry Finnerty
Executive Producer: Teruo Nakamura
Engineered by Joe Berger
Total Time: 64:05
Highlights: "Blues for Trane," "Big Nick," "Aisha," "The Terrace," "Two," "Resolution" and "Green Dolphin Street"
Barry Finnerty plays Yamaha Image Custom and CPX-15 guitar

A musicians' musician, a guitarists' guitarist, Barry Finnerty has been of my musical idols and one of my favorite guitarists for the past four decades. I'm a huge fan of him since his early days in the 70s with Airto & Flora, Raul de Souza (for whom he wrote "Chants to Burn" on the "Colors" album), Hugo Fattoruso's OPA ("Magic Time" which was really conceived during a "magic" time in LA in the mid-70s) and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra ("Greetings and Salutations" from "New Life"). And I continued to collect all the albums he played on with people like Hubert Laws, The Brecker Bros., Joe Sample's solo projects, the Crusaders' best-selling item ever ("Street Life"), Terumasa Hino's "Double Rainbow" and, of course, Miles Davis' comeback album in 1981, "The Man with the Horn." Not to mention the sessions with Eliane Elias, Carl Palmer, Roy Haynes and Mel Martin.

Despíte such a great curriculum, Finnerty never became a household name. Actually, I consider him one of the three most underrated guitarists from the fusion era, along with David Amaro and John Tropea. But he reaches a new level of maturity and mastery on this new CD, "Blues for Trane," recorded for the Japanese label Cheetah (now distributed by the powerful Pony Canyon) of his old friend and producer, bassist Teruo Nakamura, with whom he had worked in several projects, including the late Jorge Dalto's "Rendezvous" album.

A superb session, "Blues for Trane" sounds like a made-in-heaven project. Finnerty's playing is simply phenonemal throughout the album. All his improvisations are solo lessons, everything amazes me: from Barry's tone to his phrasing to the way he always tells a story when soloing. Everything fits, all musicians are connected, the repertoire is impeccable. David Kikoski's solos on "Two" (on ac. piano) and "Resolution" (playing Rhodes) are stunning too.

Btw, I was familiar with most of the musicians. I had been introduced to Kikoski's talents by my dear friend Randy Brecker, back in 1986, through "In the Idiom" (Denon) and later attended a gig recorded live for Sonet at the Sweet Basil in NYC. I've been a fan of bassist Ron McClure since his days with Blood Sweat & Tears ("Mirror Image") and the Pointer Sisters ("That's A Plenty") in the '70s. Later, I had the privilege to attend a concert he did with Michel Legrand in 1987. Most recently, I got a series of great albums he recorded with Swedish trumpeter Anders Bergcrantz. Regarding drummer Victor Jones, I first heard him with Stan Getz, followed by albums with Woody Shaw, Rich Cole, Joshua Breakstone, Dizzy Gillespie, Camila Benson, Michel Petrucciani, Roseanna Vitro, Ronnie Cuber and Chico O'Farrill.

Jones plays on four tunes ("Blues for Trane," "Big Nick," "Resolution" and "Green Dolphin Street", being replaced by Graham Hawthorne in all others. "Graham is a great all-around drummer, he played with my NY rock band The Negatives back in the 80s and recently has worked with Paul Simon and toured with David Byrne for the last few years.... which is a great band by the way," Finnerty tells me. "And Chuggy has been my main man on percussion since I met him though Teruo over 20 years ago. He worked with Donny Hathaway back in the day."

The 9-minute title track ("I wrote to go straight for that pure Coltrane blues feeling, starting with the one A minor chord in free time in the intro," Barry explains) opens the album with great impact and aplomb, showcasing the incomparable "cry" of Finnerty's guitar. Another kind of musical delight happens through his lovely version of Coltrane's "Big Nick" from the famous reunion album with Duke Ellington for the Impulse! label. Finnerty's creativity also leads him to a solo take on McCoy Tuner's "Aisha," recorded on Coltrane's "Olé" for Atlantic. "It's a beautiful melody which I played here on three guitars, the melody on electric, backed by acoustic and 12-string," Barry notes.

Then comes "Blue Z," actually a blues in B, the jazz waltz "The Terrace," the intriguing "Two" (based on the chord changes of Marvin Hamlisch's "One" from "Chorus Line"), a funkyfied reading of Coltrane's "Resolution" from the legendary "A Love Supreme" ("one of my favorite Coltrane melodies...powerful, bluesy and evocative," Finnert notes) with David Kikoski doing a fantastic Rhodes solo, and the closing theme - the only jazz standard on the date - Bronislaw Kaper's "Green Dolphin Street," recorded by Coltrane during his stint with Miles.

"Blues for Trane," already the talk of the town in Japan, will surely make my list of the Best Releases of 2010. It's essential for Coltrane fans, guitar fans, and any lover of contemporary jazz. And it's guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

To order a U.S. copy of "Blues for Trane," please click here:

Barry's own liner notes follow:

I have always had a great admiration and respect for the music of John Coltrane. Even though he passed away in 1967 at the (much too young) age of 42, his playing set a standard of dedication and excellence that few, on any instrument, have equaled since.

But over and above his amazing technical achievements and harmonic innovations, from "Giant Steps" to "Interstellar Overdrive", which paralleled, in jazz, the development of classical music from Bach to Stockhausen, in about a decade, there was always another component in Coltrane's music. A more spiritual component that could be found not in the notes he played but in the way he played them, and the sound and feeling that he played them with. On a ballad, he would play a sound of pure love and tenderness; on a faster tune, sometimes he would sound like a preacher to a Sunday congregation. And always he would remain connected to the feeling of the blues.

It was with that feeling in mind that I went into the studio to record this CD. And I hope that at least in some small way I was able to play and write a few things worthy of his memory.

The first tune, "Blues For Trane", I wrote to go straight for that pure Coltrane blues feeling... starting with the one A minor chord in free time in the intro. All I had written out was the chords for the slow Elvin Jones-style 3/4 blues. The melody was completely improvised live in the studio.

Next is "Innerception". It's not important what I was thinking when I wrote this one. What is more important is your perception of it. The kind of perception that comes not from the outside but the inside... inner ception! Get it?

"Big NIck" is a Coltrane tune that was on the "Duke Ellington and John Coltrane"
album on Impulse. It's a happy little melody, which I always liked, played over the first 8 bars of rhythm changes (without the bridge). It swings! I don't know who Big Nick was in real life... probably a friend of Trane's.

"Knee-Bop" is an original of mine which is based on reversed rhythm changes in C. Instead of C-A7-D-G7, it goes C-Eb7-Ab-Db7. Then after three 2-5 changes in the bridge, I threw in some of Coltrane's "Giant Steps" changes for good measure! I was originally going to call this one "Neo-Bop" because of the rather new combinations of chord changes, but it turned out to be such a knee-slapper I decided to call it "Knee-Bop" instead!

Next we have my vocal take on the Coltrane-Johhny Hartman classic "You Are Too Beautiful" by Rodgers and Hart. It gave me a rare chance to demonstrate my heretofore unknown (!) jazz ballad singing abilities.Those were some big shoes to try to fill, but I think I gave Johhny a run for his money at least!

NOTE: On the Japanese version, "You Are Too Beautiful" is replaced by McCoy Tyner's "Aisha".

"Blue Z" is actually a blues in B! With the addition of tritone substitute changes on the turnaround. I can't think of much more to say about it. I hope you enjoy it!

"The Terrace" is an older tune of mine, a jazz waltz. I wrote it around 1980 when I was living in my loft on West 30th Street in Manhattan. Outside the window of the room where I would play the piano, there was a little terrace, and the melody is kind of terraced too in the way it repeats while descending... hence the title.

"Two" was written in the well-known jazz tradition of using the chord changes of one tune to create another... in this case the chord changes of Marvin Hamlisch's "One" from "Chorus Line". I always thought it would make a nice vehicle to play over. I threw in a few tiny bits from other famous jazz tunes in the melody... see if you can spot them!

Next is a funky hip-hop version of Trane's "Resolution" from the great "A Love Supreme" album. This is one of my favorite Coltrane melodies... powerful, bluesy, and evocative. Hope you like what we did with it.

And finally we have a jazz standard: "Green Dolphin Street" by Bronislaw Kaper. Coltrane recorded this one with Miles Davis and there is also a video of him playing it on YouTube. And it's a tune that I have really enjoyed playing over the years.

A special word of thanks to the great musicians who played on this recording: Dave Kikoski, Ron McClure, Victor Jones, Graham Hawthorne, and Chuggy Carter. Their contributions really made it what it is!

Barry Finnerty

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