Nick Finzer’s “Hear and Now” at Cornelia St. Cafe 2/28 (by Dan Lehner)

PERSONNEL: Nick Finzer (trombone), Lucas Pino (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Alex Wintz (guitar), Glenn Zaleski (piano), Dave Baron (bass), Allan Mednard (drums)

SET LIST: Just Passed the Horizon (Finzer), Never Enough (Finzer), The Greatest Romance Ever Sold (Prince R. Nelson), New Beginnings (Finzer), Again and Again (Finzer), Race to the Bottom (Finzer)

HIGHLIGHTS: The group conceptually stretched its legs by interpreting a 90’s Prince crossover-pop tune as a John Coltrane Quartet selection, the result being a remarkably potent and surprisingly non-cheeky addition to his mostly original set.

Nick Finzer has been a strong entry in the catalogue of young trombonists for a few years, notably with JALC and Anat Cohen. However it is as a bandleader where Finzer makes his strongest mark. Hear and Now’s performance at Cornelia St. Cafe was a delicate balance between intricate counterpoint, group interplay and individual features.

Finzer’s writing had a stately sort of quality even in the excited moments. The genial harmonies between trombone and bass clarinet in “Never Enough” had an air of Duke Ellington bucolicism.  In “Just Passed the Horizon” a lively and curious melody started in unison before the members gradually broke off to fulfill other roles. “Race to the Bottom” framed lightning fast, dive-bombing runs with late-60’s-style parallel harmonic figures. Prince tributes have become common since 2016, but Hear and Now’s reimagining of the less-talked-about “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold” as if performed by the John Coltrane Quartet worked surprisingly well, wringing the pop tune’s chordal twists for all they were worth, outfitted with McCoy-esque block chords and Elvin-esque snare-ride combos.

Finzer was a nimble and diverse technician, comfortable breezing through all the registers. He might have a similar constructive sense as Ryan Keberle: long, attractive melodic sequences that utilize wide intervallic ranges, capped by short falls and unexpected turns into double-time. He was sensitive to color in the broad musical sense of the term; harmonically, he massaged “out” harmonies into the logic of his solos through careful repetition, and texturally, he made use of the woefully underrepresented bucket mute to blend in with his bandmates.

The sextet’s sidemen made formidable statements within Finzer’s music. Pino had a fiery temperament not unlike Joe Henderson, moving from booming low ends to fluttering, arrhythmic sheets in the highs. Zaleski and Mednard tapped into similar energies in “Again and Again,” the pianist moving between tippin’ bop phrases and Robert Glasper-ish gospel, Mednard similarly mediating New Orleans swing, modern jazz and boom-bap hip-hop. Wintz’s feature on “New Beginnings” mixed Frisellian/Methenian prettiness with spidery sprints, while Baron leavened poeticisms with fierce syncopation.

— by Dan Lehner