Ed Finney’s 50-plus year career playing music has taken the guitarist from Stax and the bars on Beale Street to the hottest jazz clubs in New York and San Francisco, and to the remotest corners of the world, including Morocco, Kashmir and the mountaintops of Central America.
Over that time, his music has taken a similar journey, expanding from the blues and R&B of his youth to the progressively more out-there forms of jazz and world music that have earned him a reputation as the “Sun-Ra for Memphis.”
In his 60s now, Finney has settled back in his hometown. His newest project teams him with vocalist-trumpeter Jeremy Shrader, a musician half his age who, nevertheless, shares his affection for the sounds of an earlier age. Growing out of their weekly gig at Midtown lounge The Cove, the pair’s new album The Moon is in Love contains their take on both standards and original compositions in the same classic vein.
Finney and Shrader will celebrate the release of the record on Thursday with a free show at The Cove.
“I like a lot of things about this project,” says Finney. “We’re playing such great music — George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington. The other thing is it’s interesting to get to where you can get it on a pretty high level without bass and drums. You have a lot of freedom when there are just two of you. It pushes me as a guitarist because I have to make it sound big and full with just me.”
For Shrader, known for his own dizzying variety of musical projects, including the swing ensemble the New Memphis Hepcats, the honky-tonk group Big Barton, and the Soul Rebels Brass Band, the new album cuts closest to his musical marrow.
“I think this would be the one project I’ve been involved with that best represents me,” says Shrader, who is releasing The Moon is in Love on his own increasingly active Electric Room label. “This one is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.”
Finney says the type of classic songcraft on display on The Moon is in Love has been an undercurrent ever since he first took up the guitar as a 16-year-old student at Central High School. The son of a musical family — his father was part of a harmonica trio — he first fell in love with the blues on WDIA. After graduation, Finney began gigging on Beale and later picked up session work at Stax, working with Isaac Hayes and David Porter, among others.
Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell turned Finney on to jazz, and soon he was delving into the city’s then-bustling jazz scene, eventually earning a spot in the house jazz band at the famous Club Paradise, where he backed visiting big names such as Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson and Ray Charles.
In the early ’70s, Finney expanded beyond Memphis, playing with nationally recognized experimental groups. He joined the Insect Trust, a jazz-influenced rock group that included renowned music critic and sometime Memphian Robert Palmer. And he played in jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette’s acclaimed fusion band Compost.
This was also the beginning of Finney’s world travels. Over the decades, he visited and studied with the late Palmer in Morocco and Compost drummer Bob Moses in Kashmir. Insect Trust bandmate Luke Faust has recalled how Finney would spend six months of the year gigging in the clubs of Memphis and the other six in the mountains of Central America exploring his own Indian roots and their music.
Finney finally returned home to Memphis four years ago, so far for good save for the occasional tour. Upon his return, one of the first musicians he hooked up with was Shrader, a native of Clarksville, Tenn., who moved here 15 years ago for college.
“I feel very privileged to get to play with him on a regular basis,” says Shrader, whose Electric Room also released earlier this year Dio Ra’s Morning Show, a recording by Finney’s experimental jazz group Neptune’s Army.
The feeling is mutual for Finney, who calls Shrader one of the best vocalists he has worked with. But though seemingly content and satisfied, Finney plans to continue his travels — on record any rate.
Ed Finney and Jeremy Shrader
9 p.m. Thursday
The Cove, 2559 Broad Ave.
Free. 901-730-0719. Visit thecovememphis.com