In late 2019, just before the world as we knew it went astray, veteran composer John Finbury was nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album for his extraordinary collection Sorte! Featuring Brazilian singer/songwriter Thalma de Freitas. Whether consciously or not, he and the grand ensembles he works with found fascinating ways to chronicle the year since with works that speak to different elements of our collective experience.
Released just before the events that prompted a summer of protests and a reckoning on systemic racism, the seven track, jazz, and Latin jazz-influenced Quatro was fashioned as a powerful condemnation of those who seek restriction based on race and call for social justice. Released on the same day, American Nocturne: Final Days of July has a completely different vibe, much more expansive, meditative, lyrical, nostalgic, haunting, and melancholy, with a completely different ensemble artfully balancing Finbury’s jazz and classical passions. It’s a beautiful and thoughtful, hard-hitting reflection on America in 2020, infused with tradition, lament, and longing – and ultimately, with gently graceful pieces like “Halfway There,” “I’ll Pray for You” and “Storybook Ending,” a few glimmers of hope amidst the sadness and despair.
As always, Finbury engages the most accomplished and storied of musicians to execute his vision – including pianist Tim Ray, cellist Eugene Friesen, harmonica player Roni Eytan, guitarist Claudio Ragazzi and accordionists Roberto Cassan and Vito Goncalves. Interestingly, we are treated to two splendid versions of the composer’s intimate and sensual “Waltz For Patty” – an ensemble piece showcasing Freisen and Ray, and a poignant closing solo piano take by Finbury himself. In an album that runs the gamut of challenging emotions, those two tracks are the true emotional heart and soul of the session.