by Ian Mann
January 25, 2023
In a particularly well balanced group the standard of the playing is excellent throughout, with the trio combining well as a unit but also shining as individuals. A thoroughly satisfying album.
Abbie Finn Trio
“On Pink Lane”
Abbie Finn – drums, percussion, Harry Keeble – tenor saxophone, Paul Grainger – double bass
“On Pink Lane” is the third album release from the trio led by drummer and composer Abbie Finn. It follows “Northern Perspective” (2021) and the digital only release “Live at the 2021 Newcastle Jazz Festival”. The “Northern Perspective” album is reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann and forms the basis for much of the following biographical details;
Finn is based in Brandon, County Durham and is a leading figure on the jazz scene in the North East of England. 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.
Her playing first came to my attention when I reviewed the 2021 album “Promise The Moon” by the trio led by 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;
Finn leads two regular groups, the trio featured on this new 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 a versatile performer who has performed regularly with both small groups and large ensembles, the latter including the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) and the WOW (Women of the World) Orchestra. 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.
In 2021 she took up the role of on-stage drummer on the début UK tour of the Kenny Wax production of “Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World”, This stage show tells the stories of great women of the past and is based on the book by Kate Pankhurst.
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. The members met at a jazz jam in Newcastle and have continued playing together ever since.
“Northern Perspective” featured an intriguing mix of outside material, including arrangements of a number of jazz standards, and original compositions from members of the trio. “On Pink Lane” places the focus on Finn’s compositions exclusively and the album takes its title from the street in Newcastle that housed the old Jazz Café, the venue where the trio first played together at that now renowned jam session.
Finn says of her writing for the album;
“I have composed brand new tunes for this album, which focus on varied rhythmic concepts and include heavy improvisation”.
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 and the group manage to put their own stamp on the classic ‘saxophone trio’ format. Much of the writing is inspired by the North East and I’m grateful to Abbie for providing me with some concise “info on the tunes” and the inspirations behind them.
The album kicks off with the bebop inspired turbulence of “North East Wind”, a track that has also been released as a single. Bassist Grainger lives in the coastal town of Whitley Bay, which the other members of the trio visit frequently, usually resisting the temptation to immerse themselves in the freezing cold waters of the North Sea. A tricky bebop style head fuels expansive tenor sax peregrinations from Keeble, with Finn and Grainger combining to create a flexible but propulsive groove. The leader drives things along from behind the kit but also adds plenty of colour and nuance to her playing, enjoying a lively series of sax and drum exchanges along the way.
The inspiration behind the title track has already been explained, with Finn dedicating the piece to her one time mentor, Sebastiaan de Krom. Grainger’s bass introduces a pleasantly quirky tune that explores a variety of jazz style with Keeble again stretching out on tenor as Finn and Grainger once more offer empathic, finely calibrated support. Grainger enjoys his first outing as a soloist, combining a rich, round tone with an impressive dexterity. Finn is again featured in a further series of colourful exchanges with Keeble’s tenor.
“The Warren”, written in 5/4, adopts a more contemporary Latin-esque / modal feel and is introduced by a combination of bass and drums. There’s something of a Coltrane-esque quality to Keeble’s subsequent tenor sax ruminations and his subsequent dialogue with Finn’s drums.
“So It’s True” adds a funk element to the proceedings and is a punchy tune that features Finn on Latin style percussion in addition to the regular drum kit. Keeble adopts a raunchy tone on tenor as he stretches out belligerently, with Finn and bassist Grainger providing a mighty rhythmic drive. There’s an extended solo drum feature from the leader that sees her circumnavigating her kit with considerable aplomb..
“The Labyrinth” is another piece with a contemporary feel and Finn is quick to praise recording engineer Ray Beckett for his work on this track as the trio attempt to “capture the sound of a vast and immense labyrinth”. The music is certainly suitably labyrinthine, sinuously snaking its way through five minutes of music with Finn deploying mallets throughout. Keeble’s sax wheedles and caresses while both Grainger and Finn deliver innately melodic solos on bass and drums respectively. It’s a highly atmospheric piece of music and represents one of the album’s stand out cuts.
Equally evocative is “Mirador De Los Poleos”, a ballad style composition inspired by the clarity of the night skies during a visit to Tenerife. The piece is introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied tenor sax, subsequently joined by deeply resonant double bass and finally the leader’s brushed drums. It captures the beauty of the remembered moment perfectly. Along the way there’s a delightfully melodic bass solo from Grainger and a wonderfully warm tenor solo that highlights the gentler side of Keeble’s playing.
The title of “A Real Job” represents a humorous response to a question that professional musicians are often asked. It’s a lively tune that commences with Finn at the kit, subsequently joined by tenor sax, with Keeble navigating his way around the contours of Finn’s drumming. Grainger then lays down a propulsive bass groove, locking in with Finn’s polyrrhythmic flow to provide a jumping off point for Keeble’s loquacious sax improvising. Grainger then comes to the fore with a fiercely plucked bass solo, as Finn’s brushed drums chatter around him. The leader then switches to sticks for an exuberant drum feature, that again finds her roaming the kit.
“Big Old Spice Cabinet” references the band’s love of Indian food and the huge variety of spices to be found in Finn’s kitchen. The music is suitably piquant with Finn again supplementing the kit with additional percussion. Keeble stretches out with relish above the sizzling rhythms while Finn’s colourful drumming occasionally bubbles to the surface. It’s vibrant and fun – but with a bit of a kick to it.
The album concludes with “Jazz The Cat”, named for the feline owned by Finn’s mother, “an erratic cat who loves to zoom about the house and attack everything in her path”. The music is suitably animated and sees the album ending as it began with an excursion into bebop inspired territory as tricky, darting snatches of melody combine with strong grooves to provide the jumping off point for Keeble’s sax excursions and a dynamic and exuberant closing drum feature.
“On Pink Lane” is an excellent follow up to “Northern Perspective” and demonstrates that the trio has progressed considerably over the course of the last two years. By deciding to concentrate on original material the trio has established an even stronger group identity and has also introduced a more contemporary aspect to its sound. The Rollins and Henderson influences are less overt and pieces like “The Labyrinth” and “Mirador De Los Poleos” see Finn really beginning to develop as a composer.
In a particularly well balanced group the standard of the playing is excellent throughout, with the trio combining well as a unit but also shining as individuals.
Finn’s own playing is crisp, accurate and propulsive, hard driving yet full of nuance and detail. Keeble is consistently imaginative and inventive within the confines of the saxophone trio format and distinguishes himself as a fluent tenor soloist with a strong melodic sense. Grainger is impressive as the group’s anchor but also seizes the moment with a number of excellent bass solos. It all makes for a thoroughly satisfying album and one that represents a considerable step forward from the trio’s two previous (very good) offerings.
Most of the Finn Trio’s gigs are in the North of England, but it would be good to see them venturing further South – and thus giving me the opportunity of enjoying their music live.
Upcoming gigs include;
3rd February 2023 - Abbie Finn Trio - Saltburn Arts
28th February 2023 - Abbie Finn Trio -The Forum, Darlington, 7pm doors (Note different week this month, not the usual 2nd Tuesday)
More at http://www.abbiefinn.com
“On Pink Lane” is available via Finn’s Bandcamp page;
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