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Abbie Finn Trio

Stotties For Three

by Ian Mann

January 19, 2024


There are no gimmicks or electronics, just the basic sound of the saxophone trio, albeit one led from the drums. It’s a format that these three musicians have very much made their own.

Abbie Finn Trio

“Stotties For Three”

(Self Released)

Abbie Finn – drums, Harry Keeble – tenor sax, Paul Grainger – double bass

“Stotties For Three” is the third full album release from this trio from the North East of England led by drummer and composer Abbie Finn.

It follows “Northern Perspective” (2021),  the digital only release “Live at the 2021 Newcastle Jazz Festival”, and “On Pink Lane” (2023). Both the “Northern Perspective” and “On Pink Lane” recordings are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann site.

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, this trio 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), the Strictly Smokin’ Big Band 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. Among those with whom Finn has worked are saxophonists Sue Ferris,  Simon Spillett, Alan Barnes, Julian Costello and Derek Nash, trumpeters Graham Hardy and Michael Lamb, vocalists Zoe Gilby, Alice Grace and Ruth Lambert, pianists Andrea Vicari and Paul Edis, bassists Oli Hayhurst, Mick Shoulder and Andy Champion and guitarist Mark Williams.
In addition to her work as a jazz musician Finn 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.

In 2023 Finn was the winner in the 18+ category at Hit Like A Girl UK, a national competition for female drummers. Recent coverage in Jazzwise magazine has also helped to bring her music to the attention of the national jazz audience.
Full details of Finn’s musical and thespian activities can be found at her website

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 original compositions from members of the trio and outside material, including arrangements of a number of jazz standards. “On Pink Lane” placed the focus on Finn’s compositions exclusively and the album took 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.

Like its predecessors the title of the new album is a reference to Finn’s northern roots. A stottie is a round flat loaf exclusive to the North East, as Finn’s liner notes explain;
“ ‘Stotties For Three’ is an album that, for me, highlights the best in life. Friends, family, following your passions, and the most basic of things, like good bread. I chose to highlight a traditional northern bread, the stottie. It’s not flashy, it’s not fancy, it’s bread in its most basic form. I know I speak for the trio when I say we love the North East and we love the food here. The group often share lunch after a rehearsal and this is a popular choice from local bakeries. For me good food is what life’s all about – as you might have guessed from some of my previous tune titles. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished thus far and I’m excited to see what the future brings for the band”.

The album packaging includes a photograph of the band members tucking into three enormous stotties, which look as if they may have kept them quiet for some time.

“Stotties For Three” was released on 15th January 2024, a date that also saw the trio play a hugely successful album launch event at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London. The album was recorded at Blank Studios in Newcastle with Ray Beckett engineering. It was produced with the financial support of the Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation.

As with the previous “On Pink Lane” the focus is again on Finn’s original writing. 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 the group managing to put their own stamp on the classic ‘saxophone trio’ format. Other musicians that Finn has cited as influences include saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Tubby Hayes and fellow drummers Max Roach and Art Blakey.

The title of album opener “Nee Messin’” honours the dialect of the North East and features Keeble’s tenor sax explorations above a rolling, polyrhythmic bass and drum groove. Keeble stretches out at length, soloing with an admirable power and fluency before handing over to the excellent Grainger at the bass. Keeble subsequently returns on tenor, helping to underscore an impressive drum feature from the leader. An enjoyable and invigorating start.

“Sheila’s Song” was written for Finn’s grandmother and is celebratory in feel, with strong melodies and Latin inflected grooves. Keeble is at his most Rollins-like while Finn fairly dances around the drum kit as Grainger, who kicks things off, fulfils an anchoring role. There’s an extended solo drum passage from Finn, a highly colourful excursion that includes a colourful array of sounds and which is irresistible in its joyousness.

The title of “Pirates Not Princesses” references Finn’s childhood and her desire to play at pirates rather than princesses. It’s a less frenetic offering than the first two items, although hardly lacking in terms of energy in momentum, with a hint of wistful nostalgia in the melodies. Keeble solos with admirable fluency and there’s another extended feature for Finn, this time underpinned by Grainger’s grounding bass.

Martial style drumming introduces “Mardi Groove”, which, as its title might suggest throws some New Orleans flavourings into the mix. Keeble’s sax dances with great agility around the marching rhythms and there are also substantial features for drums and bass, with the leader playing a particularly prominent role at the kit.

The ballad like “Into The Dene” cools things down, with huskily lyrical tenor sax complemented by languidly melodic double bass and delicately brushed drums. Keeble expounds in unhurried, thoughtful fashion, again exhibiting an impressive fluency.

“210” commences in atmospheric fashion with the sounds of tenor sax and grainy arco bass. Finn sits out and listens for a while, before the introduction of drums increases the pace of the music. Grainger puts down the bow and we return to more familiar ‘sax’ trio territory, with Keeble probing incisively on tenor before entering into an engaging and energetic series of exchanges with the leader’s drums.

The bluesy “Where Are We Going For Lunch?” is one of Finn’s food related titles and the music exhibits the kind of relaxed joyousness that typifies the album. This is a trio with a happy rapport both on and off the bandstand (Finn and Keeble are life partners) and this is reflected in the conversational nature of the music. This piece features another series of good natured sax and drum exchanges, mediated by Grainger at the bass, who later enjoys an extended solo of his own.

The album concludes with the punchy “Catching The Wind”, driven by Grainger’s propulsive bass lines and Finn’s crisp and sturdy drumming. The powerful grooves of the rhythm section help to fuel Keeble’s sax pyrotechnics, while Finn’s drum feature also includes plenty of fireworks as the album closes on an energetic note.

In some ways the trio’s music is like the stottie, not flashy, not fancy but eminently wholesome and satisfying. There are no gimmicks or electronics, just the basic sound of the saxophone trio. It’s a format that these three musicians have very much made their own, putting their own spin on it, a spin rooted in the environment of the North East but capable of reaching out to the wider jazz audience.

As I have previously observed this is a particularly well balanced trio who have developed an impressive rapport over the course of their three studio recordings – plus one live album. It’s good to see them performing original compositions, albeit rooted deeply in the jazz tradition, and their slightly retro sound has the capacity to appeal to a broad jazz listenership. Like the stottie there’s nothing pretentious about the trio’s music,  but their skill and their joy in making it shines through throughout this recording.

Although they rarely play in my part of the country I would relish the opportunity of seeing this excellent trio performing live.

“Stotties For Three” is available here;

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