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Jazzing up the Church

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Oct 7th, 2018

From left: Tom Melito, Lou Pappas, Larry Ham, Matt Finley

In gentle mist on Saturday afternoon, Matt Finley & Friends performed a program of intimate Brazilian jazz before an enthusiastic crowd at Smithfield Church. This ensemble had never played together before, although Matt Finley had played with Larry Ham (piano) and Lou Pappas (bass) before, but never with Tom Melito (drums) who came all the way from Danbury. Yes, jazz is an improvisatory happening and this concert sailed in fair weather. This was a program of traditional standards plus compositions by individual members of the ensemble.

They opened with “Madalena” by Ivan Lins, one of the most prolific and brilliant Brazilian composers. Finley lead ,forcefully mellow on flugelhorn, and the band moved into their groove. “Peaceful Day” by Finley featured double-time, up-tempo piano runs on the higher register, something of a signature by Larry Ham, who has played in Lionel Hampton Orchestra and Illinois Jacquet Big Band, as well as with John Coltrane, and other great jazz masters. Finley played straight sax straight up.

Finley lead on vibraphone with “Holiday Bell Waltz” which offered a glimpse of the coming season. This was the vibraphone that was used in Linda Ronstadt’s band. Finley bought it because the player had nothing else to sell. I asked: "Was it drink or drugs that were his problem?" Finley replied that the vibraphone player was too far gone to be diagnosed. Anyway, Linda Ronstadt’s band no longer exists and Matt plays this resonantly-toned instrument with plangent vibes.

They moved on to “Book’s Bossa” by Walter Booker. This was a New Orleans-inflected bossa-nova number. Booker was a high-performance bass player (with immense discography) who played for the Adderley brothers, Stan Getz, and numerous jazz combos. Lou Pappas on bass showed his deep groovy register.

Chick Corea’s “Crystal Silence, probably his most famous composition, was played in an arrangement by Antonio Adolfo. After Larry’s short piano intro, Finley took up his flute and played with svelte tone. I’ve heard Finley play flute a couple of times before, yet here he played with unusual finesse. This piece offers engaging conversation between piano and flute in a mellow, meditative vein.

“When She’s Gone” remains Matt Finley’s greatest hit composition, being the most played jazz piece on Spotify and other digital venues. Denise Jordan Finley, who had emceed the event, had recently written lyrics for the tune and she stepped up to the mike to sing with swank and verve.

“Heather’s Veil” was a Lou Pappas original. This was a jazz ballad which featured a balanced arrangement yet the fatherly bass of Pappas lived up to his surname with a touch of dissonant comedy at the conclusion. This cute number received great applause.

Another original followed: “Lullaby” by Larry Ham was first done a s piano trio with bass and drums. Here Finley improvised with trumpet accompaniment. For a lullaby this is quite a fast tempo, the kind of thing that Ham smoothly excels at. You can catch it in trio form here on YouTube.

They concluded with Finley’s “Kind and Gentle,” which was an elegy for Finley’s departed brother. This was a tuneful, mellow way to wind down the concert. (You can hear a bigger band version with Finley playing on YouTube here.) Fully warmed up, Finley played his flugelhorn with deep sincerity.

This concert was mostly original compositions by the players. The intimate quality promised was certainly achieved in the mellow jazz they played.

After a robust round of applause, the audience headed downstairs to the basement where a great spread of cold cuts, canapes, and refreshments quaffed thirst. Attendees intermingled and affable conversations between pleasant strangers offered welcome smiles.