Outside In Music Label Founder Nick Finzer Deconstructs The Creative Grind With Dreams, Visions, and Illusions, due out April 14, 2023 via Outside In Music
Trombonist, composer, arranger, producer and Outside In Music label founder Nick Finzer is proud to announce the April 14, 2023 release of his new sextet album Dreams, Visions, and Illusions, released on said label.
A follow-up to his 2021 album Out of Focus and spiritual successor to his 2020 sextet recording Cast of Characters, Dreams, Visions and Illusions represents the ultimate expression of his long-running sextet, which features tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Lucas Pino, guitarist Alex Wintz, pianist Glenn Zalenski, bassist Dave Baron and drummer Jimmy Macbride.
The inspired album was the result of a New Jazz Works grant courtesy of Chamber Music America, an American not-for-profit that provides a variety of resources to small-ensemble practitioners. The program is funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which directly supports the performing arts via generous grants.
“It had been a goal of mine for a long time to get that particular grant; I’d written five records’ worth of music beforehand and tried with all those different ones to try to get the grant,” Finzer says. Happily, the trombonist succeeded, and pledged to push his sextet format to find new inspirations.
Running with the creative possibilities as bestowed by this boon, Finzer crafted a thematically and psychologically penetrating work — one that explores the role of the muse in creative inspiration. As per Dreams, Visions and Illusions’ title, Finzer trisected this concept and shone it through the lens of creative and professional labor.
“At one point, it’s just a Dream — a thing you think maybe you can do,” he says. “And that’s the Visions part: ‘You’re playing with people; you’re getting closer.” As for Illusions: “There’s a circular nature to the journey.”
To Finzer, there’s a spiritual escape route from this 24/7 hustle — one that just about every NYC jazz musician is intimately familiar with. “I’m trying to aspire to that — some days succeeding, and some days failing,” Finzer says with a laugh, coming to terms with his overall career arc. “It took me a long time to get to the realization of what this particular life can be.”
Dreams, Visions and Illusions’ searching opener, “To Dream a Bigger Dream” is a call to move past the entrapments of capitalism’s unscratchable itch.
“As anyone who grew up in the 1990’s might remember, the overwhelming narrative of society was one of achievement — what college could you get into, what dream career would you pursue, and what was your purpose in life?” Finzer explains. “How could you fulfill that purpose through a meaningful relationship with your career?”
In A Love Supreme terms, “Aspirations and Convictions” is something of a “Resolution” to the opener’s “Acknowledgement.” “When you set out on your romanticized journey, you aspire to overcome, despite the world telling you not to do it,” Finzer says. “Your dreams cloud your mind’s clarity and you’re passionate about your mission, so why wouldn’t it happen?”
Finzer meant the introspective “Follow Your Heart” as something of a deconstruction of the titular cliché: “This track explores the dichotomy of these choice making moments in our lives… the journey of making those decisions is tumultuous, but then you just have to jump.”
The ambling “I Thought I Should Take The Road Less Traveled” faces down the difficult choices each creative person must face. “When considering which way to go in life, we often heed the advice of those who have come before,” Finzer explains. “But when there are no role models left, where do we turn?”
“But I Did What They Said” pursues an “edgier energy” and “snarky attitude.” “[It’s] about doing what you were told to do,” Finzer says, “but things don’t always work out for the rule followers.” The counterweight is the following track, “To the ‘Top,’” which reflects “good news and good experiences along the way.”
This Campbellian journey reaches its emotional apoetheosis with the seemingly weightless “Vision or Mirage?,” which Finzer highlights for its luminous piano part from Zalenski. “This one embodies to me, the feeling when you realize you might have been wrong,” Finzer says. “You might not be able to tell the difference between what you think is real and what the rest of the world feels is real.”
The trickling “Waking Up” is a call for clear-eyed perception among the noise. “Just because we want something to be a certain way, does not mean it is that way, or that you can change it to be so,” the trombonist admits. “Some things just are the way they are.”
Dreams, Visions, and Illusions concludes with the percolating “Now, Then and When.” Notable for its Kenny Garrett-esque groove, the track sends the listener off on an optimistic note. “[I’m] trying to remember that the muse that set us off on our path in the first place just wanted us to make music,” Finzer says.
Few jazz albums turn inward and question the emotional landscape of professional music-making. Finzer, a celebrated musician and label owner in equal measure, is more acutely aware of this perpetual, often thankless grind — the good, bad and ugly parts — than most.
And come April 14, there’s a better way — and a clearer looking-glass into the creative soul.
Dreams, Visions, Illusions by Nick Finzer and Hear & Now has been made possible with support from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works program funded through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Nick Finzer – Trombone, compositions
Lucas Pino – Bass Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone
Alex Wintz – Guitar
Glenn Zaleski – Piano
Dave Baron – Bass
Jimmy Macbride – Drums
Information/Liner Notes about Nick Finzer’s Dreams, Visions, Illusions
Dreams, Visions, Illusions
The new album project Dreams, Visions, and Illusions from Trombonist Nick Finzer is a culmination of over ten years of leading his sextet “Hear & Now” (whose first album, “Exposition” was released in January 2013) featuring Lucas Pino on Tenor Saxophone and Bass Clarinet, Alex Wintz on Guitar, Glenn Zaleski on Piano, Dave Baron on Bass, and Jimmy Macbride on drums.
The new album is the result of a Chamber Music America “New Jazz Works” grant received by the ensemble in 2020. The album set out to explore the role of the muse in a creative life. The ups and the downs, a sense of searching for the unknown, and navigating a world in which the future is so often veiled and confusing. The album follows the narrative set out by Finzer in the album’s liner notes:
I wanted to dream a bigger dream.
A dream that fostered a purposeful life.
Through many challenges, one must persist;
aspiring to the highest callings with clarity and conviction;
all while developing a purposeful voice.
Though life will fool you again and again,
you must follow your heart, to reach your truest self.
I thought I should take the road less traveled…
there must be treasures to find at the end of that rainbow…
But I did what they said.
I tried to reach “the top.”
When I arrived, there was no one home, nor a hospitable neighbor.
I’m focused on the journey, but is it truly a vision?
Or is it a mirage in the desert of “reality”?
Reality is not what it seems, it seems.
Is it time to wake up?
The joy of living in a persistently better future is a drug that is hard to kick.
Maybe I’ll put it off until I have achieved the success I pre-ordained…
When will it arrive?
The 9 part piece is arranged into three movements, with three compositions in each.
Part 1 – DREAMS
(1 – To Dream a Bigger Dream; 2 – Aspirations and Convictions; 3/4 Follow Your Heart)
DREAMS – the muse is powerful in our dreams. Our unfettered imaginations run wild. We imagine the music, the life, and the journey that is to come… We find our heroes and wonder how we can recreate their contributions to this art form… but with all of the focus on the future, are we really present in the moment? Can we develop our sense of self enough to remain present, and to enjoy that journey?
Part 2 – VISIONS
(5 – I Thought I Should Take the Road Less Traveled; 6 – But I Did What They Said; 7 – To the “Top”)
VISIONS – the ego takes over. The more we learn and the more we dream, our ego gets in the way of our process. It sees the bright lights, the missed opportunities, the times when you’re passed over, and forgets to be grateful for the many more situations that have in fact, gone in your favor. If you’re not careful, the ego will dominate your subconscious driving you to ever increasing insularity; driving you away from the community that will lift you up and help you to realize your full potential as an artist.
Part 3 – Illusions
(8 – Vision or Mirage; 9 – Waking Up; 10 – Now, Then, and When?)
ILLUSIONS – but what is really real? The muse shows us the way, but is it the right way? The well trodden path, or the less traveled path, they’re all really the same in the end if there really never was a “path” to begin with. The world has evolved, and the reality of our heroes is not the reality we live in today. This fact creates quite a juxtaposition of our art and our reality as it lives simultaneously in the past, the present, and the future…
A quote I feel is relevant about the concept of the album:
“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.”
― Alan Watts
A note about the project, from Nick:
The journey of the self, especially as an artist, can be a hard road. It always seems from the outside, like others have found their voice, while our own selves remain stagnant, confused, and without direction. But the truth of the matter is, I think that we are all searching just as much as I am.
The beginnings of a career as an artist are dreamy. Lofty aspirations, no idea of the reality of a life in the arts, just the pure unadulterated joy of performance and music making. The rest don’t matter. Nothing else matters. It’s just you and your art. Just you and your muse. You and your instrument.
If you are anything like me and start to learn more about the industry, the business, the realities of life on the road, you start to build a vision for a life. A vision for the future. And (for me this has certainly been true) sometimes that leads to the ignoring of the present. What a conundrum that truly is – especially in a music that is ALL about being in the present! If you aren’t in the present, there’s almost no way to be successful at interacting and communicating with your band, and the audience.
Like any process, you begin to realize that the ideas of your vision are breaking down, that the ideas you had might not be true. Those early ideas might not be realistic and might just be impossible. Not because you aren’t willing to make the sacrifices and do the work, but because of cultural factors that are outside of your sphere of influence.
Nothing is truly as it seems, it turns out. Every choice we make has its costs and its benefits. Every yes is a no to the many possible alternative roads your life could follow. So how do we choose?
How do we rebuild our identity to match the vision of our artistic life within the vision of our reality?
It’s all relative I suppose, and one has to navigate their own way through the same questions that have troubled our ancestors for millennia.
I tend to agree with the idea that almost all human achievement is part of a quest for immortality. It seems pretty obvious: We all want to leave a legacy. We want to leave behind something bigger than ourselves. We want to be a part of something that matters.
But what happens when the thing we end up building up, sits at odds with the mission we set out to achieve? Well, that’s part of the existential dilemma for artists to express, through their work.
A note about my music:
I think that a lot of my music is really about trying to express the idea that people should pay attention to the world, and stop being distracted by every shiny object that is right in front of you. Pay attention to what’s being said, what’s being presented, the things you eat, the things you see, the things you consume. Just pay attention. Don’t be a passive consumer of your life – curate the quality of the things. Just because something is easy or accessible does not mean it’s good – despite the fact that good is such a subjective concept. When I say good – I mean thoughtfully executed, prepared and presented. Even if I don’t like it, it can still be “good” – it just might not be to my taste.
Even if you don’t like this suite of music, I hope you might consider if it’s “good” on that way – does it feel thoughtfully prepared? Thoughtfully executed? And well presented? I always strive to hit on all three of those areas when I’m presenting a new project.
It’s really so important to pay attention. It’s not everyday that you get a chance to make a difference in the world; but if you aren’t paying attention you’ll never even notice when the opportunity comes knocking on your door.