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Jonathan Finlayson’s Sicilian Defense at Wexner Center

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by Richard Sanford on November 6, 2017

The Wexner Center for the Arts’ Fall Jazz Season promises a riotous conclusion with trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and Sicilian Defense on Friday, November 17th, at 8pm (tickets available here). For more information about the artist and videos, continue below the jump.

One hallmark of Wexner Center jazz programming is introducing artists to Columbus by degree. I can’t imagine anyone at the Wex for Mary Halvorson’s Quintet in 2012 forgot the dynamic trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson. I heard similar awe-struck noises from audiences lucky enough to see him with Steve Lehman’s Octet last year. To close 2017, Finlayson returns with finely honed compositions and a cracking band of rising stars.

Like many of the last three generations of artists at the vanguard of jazz, Finlayson apprenticed with the great Steve Coleman and Five Elements. His music, while not sounding much like Coleman’s, carries with it the same intense curiosity and hunger for the world. His most recent album with Sicilian Defense, Moving Still, made top 10 lists for both Nate Chinen of the New York Times (who also ranked Mary Halvorson’s Octet featuring Finlayson as his record of the year) and Dave Sumner’s taste-making blog Bird is the Worm. Chinen said, “Mr. Finlayson is an improvising trumpeter almost never caught off balance, and on this album he applies that poise to compositions inspired by the poetry of the chessboard.” Sumner waxed rhapsodic about “A series of captivating moments that seem to go on forever and then end too soon.”

The quintet features guitarist Miles Okazaki, fellow Pi Records artist and Coleman alum. Okazaki has worked with everyone from John Zorn to Jane Monheit, from Donny McCaslin to Amir El-Saffar. As a leader, Okazaki’s 2017 record Trickster is already garnering just best-of-year praise. Adaptable to every situation, Okazaki brings an unmistakable tone and center of gravity to everything he plays.

Pianist David Bryant sets bandstands on fire with artists like Jen Shyu, Roy Haynes, and Eric McPherson. His thick rhythm and relaxed slide between melodic invention is a modern sound that feels connected but not beholden to the past. Bassist Chris Tordini swings hard through fascinating abstractions with everyone from Chris Speed to Kris Davis to Tyshawn Sorey. Drummer Craig Weinrib got my attention on Henry Threadgill’s masterpiece of a record Double Up and kept that grip on my throat through Finlayson’s Moving Still.

There hasn’t been a weak jazz show at the Wexner all 2017 and this promises to continue the exceptional trend. Don’t miss the chance to sink into the thorny earworms of Finlayson’s compositions and lose yourself in the combustible chemistry of these five players.

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