Many jazz composers count Duke Ellington as a major influence. But for trombonist Nick Finzer, Ellington was more like an impetus. Finzer first became interested in jazz after participating in the Essentially Ellington competition as a high schooler, in which jazz ensembles perform Ellington compositions for adjudication. The competition sparked a lifelong infatuation with the art of composing, and Finzer later apprenticed with Wycliffe Gordon and Ryan Truesdell, two of today's most visible heirs-apparent of the Ellington tradition. On his latest disc, The Chase, Finzer takes the Duke's compositional style to heart, showcasing 10 original songs written for a sextet of bright young stars from New York. And, like Ellington, he penned these compositions with his bandmates in mind. Lucas Pino (reeds), Alex Wintz (guitar), Dave Baron (bass) and Glenn Zaleski (piano) Jimmy Macbride (drums) have known Finzer for years, and all of them except Zaleski appeared on his previous disc, Exposition (Outside In). Finzer demonstrates an intense familiarity with his bandmate's voices, treating them like paint on a palette, blending and mixing sounds to create vivid new colors. On "Steadfast," he pairs his muted trombone with Pino's bass clarinet, producing rich, velvety melodies that dissolve over the top of Macbride's brushed snare. On "Search For A Sunset," he aligns Wintz's guitar and Pino's tenor saxophone in a dense harmonic passage that moves in gentle, deliberate steps beneath his own poignant trombone solo. Finzer is also a skilled interpreter of human emotions, and this album touches on many of them, from joy to sorrow, elation to despair. On the arresting ballad "While You're Gone," the trombonist works in shades of love and loss, using a straight mute and plunger to make his horn moan, whimper and cry. On the swinging "Acceptance," the mood is dreamy and bright, with cymbal work by Macbride that animates the group interplay. Whether he's bringing tears to your eyes or a skip to your step, Finzer's orchestrations never obscure the emotional content behind the songs. His compositions are like stained-glass windows: lovely on the surface, but more impressive for how they imbue what's behind them with color. Thanks to the Duke for inspiring another brilliant composer to share his art with the world.