Franco Ambrosetti with strings: beauty personified…
Franco Ambrosetti – Nora – Enja #ENJ-9811-2 – SACD – 54:01 – ****1/2
(Franco Ambrosetti – flugelhorn; John Scofield – guitar; Scott Colley – bass; Uri Caine – piano; Peter Erskine – drums; Sara Caswell – violin & concertmaster; Alan Broadbent – arranger & conductor)
It is often a life time dream for jazz musicians to record an album with strings. The elation of hearing a string orchestra backing your instrument is a heady experience. The warm timbre of a trumpet or flugelhorn is made to order for this venture. Both Clifford Brown and Chet Baker have had this opportunity, and their releases were highlights of their careers.
European trumpeter, Franco Ambrosetti, is now issuing his second “with strings” release. His first came out in 1979, with American jazz guests, and conducted by Don Sebesky. Now near 43 years later, his new project, Nora, possibly sets the standard for the future of this jazz genre. Issued in glorious 5.1 Surround, on SACD, the acoustics are beyond sumptuous!
Backed by a quartet of jazz greats (John Scofield, on guitar; Uri Caine on piano; Scott Colley on bass; and Peter Erskine on drums), Franco enlisted the consummate pianist, Alan Broadbent to both arrange and conduct a string section, on eight ballads. Broadbent is the perfect choice as he was heavily involved in Charlie Haden’s Quartet West, a group that merged jazz with romantic backgrounds in a series of “noir jazz” albums in the 1990s.
The warm timbre of Ambrosetti’s flugelhorn is on full display, while the strings, led by violinist and concertmaster, Sara Caswell, both soar and caress the melodies. The recording was made at Sear Studio in NYC (they seem to be the “Rudy Van Gelder” first call studio lately.). The recording engineer is the veteran, Jim Anderson, who also did the mixing. The 5.1 mix was converted at George Lucas’ Skywalker Sound in Marin County. As you can see, Enja Records has spared no expense to make this dream of Franco’s succeed.
The song list has two Ambrosetti originals, as well as compositions from Miles Davis, Victor Feldman, George Gruntz ( a former colleague of Franco), John Dankworth, and an incredible version of John Coltrane’s “After the Rain.”
Ambrosetti’s mastery of mid register ballads is exemplary. At 80 years old, his maturity and sophistication is shown as he uses “space” to set the mood for the lovely Broadbent arrangements. This lets the listener savor the mood like sitting in front of a fireplace on a winter evening. The notes linger leaving a warm glow.
The title track was written by Franco for a 1997 theater production of Ibsen’s House of Dolls. Peter Erskine’s brushwork is on full display, and Franco sets a subdued mood. “Morning Song of a Spring Flower” is a feature for John Scofield. His solo is understated, yet elegant, and fully in sync with the strings.
On Miles Davis’, “All Blues,” Scott Colley’s bass follows Miles’ classic opening, and the strings play in counterpoint at times. Uri Caine’s bluesy solo follows, and the strings attempt to actually swing in response. Victor Feldman’s “Falling in Love” is dreamy, and you can feel the image of a young couple holding hands walking along the Seine in Paris. Pure romance!
“Autumn Leaves” has Franco on both muted and open horn. The muted section lends passion, and the ending has a height reaching climax. “Sweet Journey” was written by Ambrosetti for his wife, Silli, and appropriately, it oozes with romance.
The highlight of this SACD for me was the closer, John Coltrane’s “After the Rain.” John Scofield rises to the occasion with a stunning display of emotion. It has a striking effect with John’s mastery of legato. The strings have a repeating motif, and Franco’s flugelhorn adds to a brilliant interpretation.
This SACD would be a perfect holiday gift for a special person in your life!
Morning Song of a Spring Flower
Falling in Love
It Happens Quickly
After the Rain