Pianist Franck Amsallem Releases "Amsallem Sings"


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Franck Amsallem
"I've always nurtured a special fondness for musician singers... with their capacity to meet the terrain of the melody head on, these instrumentalists do not sing like simple singers, but uncover in the hidden spaces of their projects unsuspected little side corners. Not an ounce of posing, all here is real, authentic... Amsallem has learned from the greats he mingled with during his twenty years of American exile the lesson of imperfection, the mastery that knows at each instant to make itself forgotten. To better place at the heart of things the little space of uncertainty that separates the musician from the artist." --Yvinek (producer)

This recording will surprise you in more ways than one. Make it a blind-fold test.

Thirty years it's taken this CD to mature. Because Franck Amsallem did not want to be pigeonholed. Neither solely a pianist of standards nor a composer of “new", “original," music at any cost. But rather a complete jazzman, pure and simple. His journey is noteworthy for its continual personal deepening. Leaving Nice, France, before the age of twenty, he uprooted himself for the second time--the first time being when he left Oran during the last throes of the war in Algeria. He arrives in Boston, to attend Berklee College. The academic road to jazz, certainly, but Franck never wanted to study like other pianists. So he takes a singing class. “I felt that a voice coach was more likely to show me something I wasn't aware of. Moreover, the majority of pianists who touch us most deeply do so when their keyboard really sings the melodies."

Through this experience, Franck figures out that his jazz must always retain this melodic essence. He moves to New York City where he rubs shoulders with the jazz greats: Mulligan, Peacock, Joshua Redman, Bill Stewart, Joe Chambers, as well as the singers Kevin Mahogany and Harry Belafonte. In “Out a Day," “Regards," “Is That So," one can always hear his focus on melody, these first recordings already carry this trademark even if they are, almost in their entirety, made up of original compositions. His is an eminently melodic jazz in its unquestionable complexity. It won't be until he is well into his forties that “Summer Times", a CD of standards (but not only) is recorded. Then comes “A Week in Paris," dedicated to Billy Strayhorn, grandmaster of Afro-American music, with the addition of singer Elisabeth Kontomanou. The only thing left was for him to reveal his own talent as a singer. It is now a done deal.

To better showcase his ability, Franck chose the most stripped-down format, the solo. No bass, drums, big band, scat, strings, no original compositions. But melody, harmony, and some swinging tempos. In other words, just piano and songs.

Quick, a quiz: how many jazz pianist-singers, masculine (or even feminine), have recorded a whole album, solo? Hmmm, the answer is not easy, even for one or two tunes. An improbable quiz, as unlikely as it is enlightening, let's face it.

As producer Yvinek stated in the liner notes, Franck went directly to the heart of things, first, by choosing melodies not often heard. And “Dream" is the epitome. This pre-war song, made famous by Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey, has fallen into near oblivion. “I Concentrate on You," with its sinuous and oh-so-precarious melody line, is another. “I'm Thru with Love," “Lucky to Be Me" also, testify to a thorough knowledge of the repertoire. The recording then shows everything that Franck rightly knows how to do so well as a pianist: modulations, solos, rubatos, introductions, interludes. The contrast between his harmonic palette so developed, the fat and sensual piano sound, and his refined yet natural voice, a voice which knows, above all else, to remain sober and embedded in the piano playing (we now know why!)--it is that which makes this CD such a beauty. An essential step in his personal journey. There is no doubt that there will be a before and after.

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