String Theory, the fifth release by the Joe Finn Quartet, finds the band in fine form throughout, breathing new life into previously recorded songs and bringing a couple of formidable originals to the table as well. The selection of songs the group has elected to cover is quite tasteful and diverse; in particular, the renditions of Pat Martino's "The Visit" and Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" are magnificent. Elsewhere, Mike Wicks' catalyzing bass line puts a spring in the step of the Cole Porter standard "I Get A Kick Out of You," and Finn evokes another Joe (Pass) with a deft, unaccompanied turn on "Lush Life."
Finn's technical prowess on the guitar is impressive while managing to be understated and not obviously imitative of any in the jazz pantheon. His thin, soft tone is sometimes swept under the emphatic playing of pianist Scott Bassinson (a fault perhaps more with the mix than with Bassinson), but is clearly identifiable as the central focus of all nine tracks. Finn's leadership does tend to steer the band in the direction of professional competence rather than expressiveness at times. It's also a bit of a disappointment that, while the covers are usually engaging and freshly played, we don't get to hear more of Finn's writing on String Theory after it's aptly demonstrated he's got plenty to offer in the way of his own ideas. One of the group's most solid and arresting ventures is the title cut - Finn's own handiwork, and rather a successful one. The guitarist's other original, "Never To Return," is easily the album's longest song; while it does meander a bit in places, it's perhaps the group's warmest and most personal statement. In any case, it is probably fair to say that fans of straight-ahead jazz guitar will be able to appreciate the Joe Finn Quartet in practically any compositional context.