When Juilliard-trained trombonist Nick Finzer was ready to release his first album he didn’t want to wait for a label to take notice. So he debuted the record, Exposition, on his own newly minted jazz imprint, Outside In Music, in 2013. Post-launch, the record label took on a life of its own (and the album did well, too: two tracks snagged ASCAP Herb Alpert Awards for Young Composers). Today Outside In Music represents approximately 25 artists and offers them a full suite of creative services—album and video production, media outreach, branding, content creation, artist management—to help them bring their artistic visions to the world. In keeping with the ever-morphing music business, Finzer continues to experiment with new formats for music promotion. “I want to…be ready for what’s coming next,” he says. For the up-and-coming Outside In artists below, that’s good news.

Multi-woodwinds player Lucas Pino and his No Net Nonet can cover a lot of ground in one tune. Listen to “Horse of a Different Color” from their latest Outside In release, That’s A Computer (OiM 1814, 58:32). Four minutes in and the group has already tackled big band, blues, swing, and bop (with some deft allusions)—and they’ve still got about six minutes of tune left. Clearly, this is a group with a lot to say, and they say it with confidence and alacrity.  The recording’s success derives in large measure from the effortless cohesion among Pino and his musicians; the arrangements showcase their skills as synchronous, tightly aligned players, whether on dramatically surging passages (“Antiquity”) or on languid stretches of sustained harmonies (“Film at 11”). As a bandleader, Pino demonstrates significant musical muscle in corralling this much sound into one sleek record.

On its debut album Kin (OiM 1807, 52:15), the young trio Paragon explores chord-less jazz, balancing free improvisation, post-bop composition, and imaginative experimentation. All three band members—bassist Emiliano Lasansky, drummer Connor Kent, and saxophonist Daniel Dickenson—are recent transplants to New York City who met up someplace else; the eight tunes on the album evoke different aspects of the city that inspire them. Some of the tunes, like “Cosmos Scapes” and “Vantablack” rely heavily on the compelling groove between Lasansky and Kent—a perfect foil for Dickenson’s exploratory soloing. But none of the players stay in one place for long; what seems like a soothing ballad at the top will likely tumble into an exciting, harmonic jangle at some point. The one all-improvised piece, “Free Interlude,” impresses for its eerie romanticism.

Warsaw native, New York-based guitarist Rafał Sarnecki is a gifted composer—you can hear the evidence in just a cursory listen to Climbing Trees (OiM 1804, 58:34), his fourth album as leader and his first for Outside In. But it’s better to dig deeper, into his sophisticated use of form and feel on tunes like “Dadaism,” with its complex, wide-ranging melody lines and subterranean pulse, or “Little Dolphin,” a piece in three movements of contrasting motion. Sarnecki’s wordless vocal parts, performed by the talented singer Bogna Kicińska, differentiate his sextet from the pack; not everyone can write this well for the voice. Saxophonist Pino, who uses Sarnecki in his No Net Nonet, offers up some blistering playing on this disk (“Hydrodynamics”), only to shift moments later into Zen-like calm (“Homo Sapiens”).    

Trombonist Peter Nelson drew the inspiration for his new album, Ash, Dust, and the Chalkboard Cinema (OiM 1813, 43:12), from his struggle to overcome the chronic pain of focal dystonia, a neurological condition caused by his playing. The cycle of 10 songs reflects the path of his recovery, from the emergence of his condition, through the collapse of his art, to his eventual recovery and re-emergence as a player. On the album he plays with three groupings of musicians, each with its own distinct quality: vibes and vocals for the ephemeral; a standard rhythm section for the disquieting; and a horn-based septet for the exultant. Nelson also gets props for the most imaginative song titles in recent memory (e.g., “To the Water, My Eyes (To the Wave, My Heart)”).

(Reprinted from the November 2018 issue of Downbeat magazine.)