Joe Finn: String Theory – Jazz Guitar Life CD Review

The legendary author and folklorist Joseph Campbell advised us all to follow our bliss in an effort to live a fulfilling and productive life with what we love doing. With the release of Joe Finn’s latest CD String Theory, his fifth CD as a leader, it is obvious that Finn has found his bliss and has been living life on his own terms for quite some time.

String Theory features nine tunes that combine classic tunes “Without A Song”, “I Get A Kick Out Of You” and “Lush Life” with some lesser known tunes, “Fietio de Oracao” by Noel Rosa/Vadico, “Bolivia” by Cedar Walton, “Captain Hook” by Benny Green and a song that should be well known to Jazz Guitar players but may not too familiar to the general public, “The Visit” by Pat Martino. Finn has also contributed two original compositions, “String Theory” and the delicate ballad “Never To Return”, which showcase his notable writing skills.

For those who may not know of Joe Finn, he’s an especially talented guitar player who is very comfortable playing a mainstream bag alongside more modern “outside” approaches. His technique is swift, clean, and smooth as he demonstrates a first-rate command of the harmonic intricacies needed for this music. Just check out Finn’s “String Theory” where he seems to pull out all the stops with single line awareness of fourths, diminished runs, and more. Definitely makes for a more interesting listen.

Also of interest is the Quartet’s take on the Youman standard “Without A Song” which begins with Finn warmly stating the melody in octaves with a rubato feel until the band kicks it into a swinging time feel at the bridge. Some really nice playing from Finn and pianist Scott Bassinson, with bassist Mike Wicks getting to shine on acoustic bass. My feet were definitely tapping to that tune.

As much as I enjoyed all the tunes on the CD there were two that really captured my full attention. The first was a beautifully played solo version of that ol’ Strayhorn chestnut “Lush Life”. Finn outdoes himself on this tune as he deftly handles the harmonic and melodic material of this tune with “lush” chords, single note bursts, exceptional voice leading, and some interesting reharmonizations that makes one think of the late great Barney Kessel. Definitely a gem. Thanks for that one Joe.

The other tune that I really, really liked was the Cole Porter classic “I Get A Kick Out Of You”. The quartet swings hard on this one with everyone just groovin’ to what’s being played. Finn of course whips off a nice solo but kudos go to pianist Bassinson who just kicks this tune into high gear with some very nice McCoy Tyner(ish) style playing. Great stuff indeed!

Of course all the other tunes are enjoyable as well thanks to the hard work and commitment that the rest of the band brings to the table. Scott Bassinson on piano, Mike Wicks on bass, and Sam Zucchini on drums, provide Finn with stalwart musical support that I’m sure enhance his playing that much more. Just listen to Finn’s own ballad “Never To Return” to hear how complimentary each player is to the tune. A sure sign of professionalism and dedication all around.

Apart from Finn and the group members, there are two other factors that should be mentioned as playing very important roles in the success of this CD. The first are the tunes themselves. Finn has a wonderful knack for choosing cool tunes that seem to speak volumes about his own listening habits. And I for one am grateful. I would probably have never heard “Boliva” by pianist Cedar Walton or the upbeat “Captain Hook” by pianist Benny Green, which apparently was a nick name that Green gave to super bassist Christian McBride when they played in a trio early on in McBride’s career. Cool stuff.

The second factor that makes this CD enjoyable is the Michael Greenfield arch top built for Finn. It has a very smooth and balanced tone that really adds to the “voice” that is Joe Finn. One listen to “Lush Life” should confirm that.

If you are a fan of Joe Finn then you may already have this CD. But if you don’t and you are curious about Jazz Guitar or you just want to hear some great tunes, then check out Joe Finn and his latest String Theory. Not only will you be getting some great music, you will also be supporting a genre that sometimes “forgets” about those who strive to keep the Jazz Guitar flame burning bright at a more grass roots level. Enjoy!

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