by Ian Mann
June 15, 2021
The album has an excellent recorded sound throughout, one that emphasises the excellent and finely calibrated rapport of the trio.
Abbie Finn Trio
Abbie Finn – drums, Harry Keeble – tenor saxophone, Paul Grainger – double bass
I first became aware of the playing of drummer, composer and bandleader Abbie Finn when I reviewed “Promise The Moon” the recent album by the pianist and composer Dean Stockdale. Finn impressed hugely with her contribution, delivering a remarkably mature and nuanced performance that added considerably to the success of this highly recommended recording. Review here;
Like Stockdale, Finn originates from the North East of England and is currently based in Brandon, County Durham. She is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Leeds College of Music and subsequently completed a Masters at Trinity Laban in London. Her drum tutors have included such respected figures as Sebastiaan de Krom, Asaf Sirkis and Gene Calderazzo.
Finn leads two regular groups, the trio featured on this recording and the five piece Finntet which includes Keeble, Grainger and Stockdale plus trumpeter Graham Hardy. She and Keeble also work as a duo under the group name Kinesis.
Finn is versatile performer who has performed with both small groups and large ensembles, the latter including the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO). She also led her own big band as part of her studies, acting as organiser, director and arranger.
Finn has worked with a wide array of musicians, both on the local North East scene and further afield, and across a broad variety of musical genres. She has also appeared on the West End stage in the Harold Pinter play “Night School”, cast as the character Mavis, a role that saw her delivering spoken lines as well as playing drums on stage. Full details of Finn’s musical and thespian activities can be found at her website http://www.abbiefinn.com
Finn’s regular trio features her contemporary, Harry Keeble, on tenor saxophone and the more experienced Paul Grainger on double bass. As Finn’s album notes explain the members met at a jazz jam in Newcastle and have continued playing together ever since. This first album is comprised of a mix of original material by members of the group and Finn’s arrangements of a selection of jazz standards and modern jazz compositions.
The saxophone trios of Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson are obvious reference points but with Finn leading from the kit there is inevitably a strong emphasis on rhythm, with Afro-Cuban and Latin elements finding their way into the arrangements and with the music intended to reflect the various musical influences of the trio members and the musical relationships within the band.
Nevertheless this is music that exhibits a strong sense of place with Finn stating;
“Northern Perspective is an album in homage to the people of the North East of England. We have been welcomed with open arms onto the jazz scene here by audiences and fellow musicians and are extremely grateful. We wanted to capture the beauty of the North in our music. We hope you enjoy our music as much as we have enjoyed recording it and playing it. I’m also grateful for the chance to create an album with these two superb musicians. It has been a pleasure”
The album artwork includes Finn’s own painting on the front cover and an image of the Angel of the North, by Lisa Keeble, on the inside.
Turning now to the music, which begins with Finn’s own composition “Walkabout”, a bop flavoured excursion powered by the leader’s ebullient drumming and showcasing Keeble’s fluency as a tenor sax improviser. Grainger also provides staunch and powerful support and is very much an essential component of this very well balanced trio. Keeble stretches out at length before Finn delivers the first drum solo of the set, a dynamic but innately musical tour around the geography of her kit. Her maturity and attention to detail were very much a feature of her playing on the Stockdale album and these qualities are also conspicuous here, even in this more robust musical environment.
Finn’s arrangement of Cole Porter’s “Night And Day” sees the trio setting a cracking pace, with Keeble soloing powerfully above the sounds of Grainger’s rapid bass walk and Finn’s sizzling cymbals. Towards the close there’s some lively interplay between sax and drums, with Finn delivering a series of feisty and colourful drum breaks.
The jazz standard “There Will Never Be A You” is given a similarly spirited treatment with the vigorous exchanges between Finn and Keeble again a feature, and with the leader delivering another extended solo drum excursion. The impressive Keeble then stretches out at length, with Grainger and Finn providing suitably propulsive support. The bassist then enjoys his first solo of the set, dexterous and swinging, with Finn providing crisply brushed support.
Credited to the Abbie Finn Trio “Waltz For Tony” is the second of the original pieces. This attractive jazz waltz sees the trio cooling things down, with Keeble adopting a softer, more ruminative tone on tenor and with Finn focussing on brushes throughout. Following Keeble’s subtly probing solo Grainger is again featured on bass, again in partnership with Finn’s nimble brushwork.
Like Finn saxophonist Keeble is also a graduate of Leeds College of Music. He leads his own quartet featuring Finn on drums and two hugely respected figures on the North East jazz scene, bassist Andy Champion and guitarist Mark Williams. Keeble originates from Hastings, which explains the title of “North Meets South”, co-written by Finn and Keeble, an impressive original composition with its roots in the jazz tradition, but with a suitably contemporary twist. Finn’s fluid rhythms, with their allusions to those Latin and Afro-Cuban elements, are the perfect foil to Keeble’s melodic and inventive improvising. Grainger again provides excellent support and also steps into the limelight in a delightfully eloquent mid tune dialogue with Finn. The leader also enjoys a series of colourful exchanges with both Grainger and Keeble towards the end of the piece.
“Nothing Personal”, a tune written by the late keyboard player and composer Don Grolnick, represents an interesting choice. It helps to retain the contemporary feel and again places the focus on the interaction between the three instruments in a series of subtly shifting exchanges, with the leader’s subtly nuanced drumming very much at the heart of the music. Keeble tackles the challenges of Grolnick’s piece with great confidence and fluency. Like Finn he is a remarkably versatile and assured young musician, another exciting new discovery for me and definitely a name to look out for in the future. This piece also features another extended drum outing from Finn, a player with the skill and musicality to keep such a solo interesting.
Following his sad departure earlier in the year Chick Corea’s composition “Windows” is one that has been performed frequently, in a broad variety of jazz contexts. Although written by a pianist it works well as a vehicle for this drum led sax trio, with Corea’s piece providing a suitable launching pad for the spirited exchanges between Keeble and Finn, with Grainger providing typically unstinting support.
“Tangerine” marks a return to the “Songbook” repertoire and sees the trio adopting a more traditional approach, with Keeble’s tenor leading the way, supported by Finn’s brisk brushwork and Grainger’s propulsive bass. Following Keeble’s opening sax solo there’s an extended feature for the excellent Grainger, his fluent bass soloing complemented by Finn’s confident brush work. The leader also enjoys a series of further drum breaks, prior to Keeble’s restating of the theme. A relaxed and charming performance all round.
Keeble’s original “Ginnungagap” takes its rather unusual title from Norse mythology and is a darker, more contemporary sounding piece. Contemplative and powerful by turns this is an impressive piece of original writing that produces an assured performance from its composer, who solos with great authority above the rolling thunder of Finn’s drums and Grainger’s fluid but authoritative bass lines. It sounds very different to anything else on the album, the contemporary feel hinting at where this trio might go next.
The album closes with Grainger’s composition “Umlazi Morning”, which introduces something of an African element to the music. Ushered in by the composer’s bass motif the piece features an attractive melodic theme allied to fluid rhythms, with the three instruments taking it in turns to lead the music. Grainger and Finn again impress with a lively but finely detailed bass / drum dialogue, while Keeble stretches out powerfully and fluently.
“Northern Perspective” represents an assured and promising début from the Abbie Finn Trio. Recorded at Blank Studios in Newcastle by the experienced engineer Adam Sinclair and with Finn herself in the production chair the album has an excellent sound throughout, one that emphasises the excellent and finely calibrated rapport of the trio.
The mix of outside and original material works well and the album represents an excellent calling card for a group that must surely represent a highly appealing and exciting live attraction. That said I’d like to see the trio presenting more of their own material next time out. The original pieces here exhibit plenty of promise and constitute some of the album highlights, suggesting that this is a group capable of taking things up a level and creating an even more distinctive identity for themselves.
“Northern Perspective” is available via Abbie Finn’s Bandcamp page;