Bill Copeland reviews “Bull in a China Shop”

Jon Finn releases third master work Bull In A China Shop; CD dazzles with instrumental thrill rides
By Bill Copeland on January 28, 2011

Long recognized as one of Boston’s premiere guitar talents, Jon Finn has released his third recorded document of his work. Finn has titled his latest CD Bull In A China Shop and like the said creature in the said setting, this guitarist is not afraid to charge in and break all the rules.

Everyone has given up on how to label the genre Finn plays and records. Is it prog-rock? Is it jazz-fusion? Is it explorative instrumental rock? Who cares? It’s good.

Finn took three years to make this CD, and the results were worthy of his efforts and his fan’s patience. Finn offers up many fine, exquisite, tasty gems on his guitar, melodic phrases that ride a groove, backbeat, rhythm support like a surfer riding a wave, with only Finn’s hard earned abilities keeping him afloat and sailing. Music explodes. Cascades. Undulates. Expression and movement is what this Bull is all about.

Finn composes instrumental music and these instrumental tracks allow him, thankfully, to go off in many different directions than a verse-chorus format. Opening with “Knee Jerk Reaction,” Finn comes right in with his spiky, complex guitar phrase as keyboardist Ross Ramsay lays a swirl of funky synthesized notes over it. Finn’s guitar phrase makes you think of a high performance vehicle racing down a twisty two lane road in the dead of night. You can’t look away from the car even though the driver is risking his life with all of those fast turns. Likewise, Finn, Ramsay, bassist Joe Santerre, and drummer Larry Finn(no relation) keep your ears glued to their music with all of its exciting twists in the phrases and grooves.

Finn and his boys go even further into fast, complex playing techniques and song structures on “Outdrive.” Finn makes his guitar scream out these high pitched squeals while drummer Larry Finn goes around his drum set with a lot of fluid motion, and you wonder if he has more than two arms and hands to keep making all of those skin smacks.

Jon Finn’s rendition of Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein” stays true to the original structure but Finn and his boys liven things up by filling their parts will all new colors. Finn added more, quicker notes to his guitar parts, with more sparks than the original flying off of the top of this instrumental beast. Larry Finn’s drum solo comes off like a pugilistic duet between two drummers because he shadows himself so well with lighter notes. What sounds at first like a wild guitar solo is actually Dino Govoni’s adept saxophone played through a processor, and to great effect. Long time fans of this song could come out of this with a whole new appreciation.

Finn’s eight minute opus “34.1” is a lovely ode to his wife and he uses lighter sounding applications of the instruments in a complex structure. Finn and his band mates do not rock out here but they do sweep listeners away with the bright, majestic reach of each movement. Finn also taps classical musicians and vocalist Lisa Wilson Brumby to add extra layers of sheer delight. Highly involving, “34.1” becomes even more a treat for the ears with each listen. Jon Finn and Santerre have a brief, palpable musical conversation with their instruments, Finn picking off nimble phrases while Santerre answers with smooth, bulbous low end notes. Finn’s guitar creates a mountain peak of sound as the band trades places with the orchestra’s sweep, the strings and the electric band never sounding less equal in stature.

Just because a song has a long strange title doesn’t mean it isn’t a good song. Finn titled one “Who Is This Man? And What Is He Doing Here?” Having some fun on this one with a trade of chords and melodic phrases, Finn eventually goes into a phrase that has a lot of inner rhythm. Ensemble work is fantastic. Ramsay, who wrote this track, sprinkles an elegant jazz piano melody over it, and, with perfect timing, he switches to chords in time for Finn’s guitar to take over. Santerre’s bass line marches and stomps forward like a monster being that controls all in its path, smoothing everything out that he touches. The bass plays out like a lead melody in one section and you can hear the low end notes dancing with the piano and guitar.

“St. Jon’s Wart,” Finn’s title for a guitar duet with Guy Van Duser, politely showcases how Finn architects his instrumentals with a quietly, nimbly picked melody line around another guitar’s rhythmic pattern. Interplay between these two guitarists really pleases the ear with their intertwining notes.

“Carlos Wanderlust” pays tribute to Latin rock guitar god Carlos Santana, one of Finn’s personal favorites. Finn utilizes the Santana technique of stretching phrases that are thick with inner notes. Latin style percussion from Ricardo Monzon flavors this piece well, leaving spaces in his hypnotic sound for Finn to jump in with his Santana-inspired guitar work.

“Putting Down The Torch” plays out in two distinct sections. Its dark first half foreshadows the brightness of the second because it can only get so dark. The bright other side finds guitar notes spiraling higher, indicating bliss was found after trudging through a difficult path. Finn compels you to feel all of this as he packs it like an opera, swells implying action and emotion, crescendos that feel climactic.

Finn brings a nice touch to his arrangement of America’s 1970s AM hit “Daisy Jane.” This rendition has a subtle interplay of mellow guitar phrases and thoughtful piano to recreate the feeling you get when you follow American to their grand chorus. Fans of this song should be delighted with this version.

Finn closes out his master work with his sprawling guitar version of the traditional “Danny Boy.” Finn’s electric cries out the melodic phrase with emotive touches in each notes while his acoustic support underneath applies a brittle tenderness.

Those familiar with Finn’s work will likely snatch up copies of this CD in a hurry. But, when it comes to listening, they will surely take their time. You just don’t want to miss a single note here.

Click here to read the review Bill Copeland’s site

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