Franco Ambrosetti, Nora… Featuring Bassist Scott Colley.
In a career spanning six decades and nearly 40 albums as a leader or co-leader, revered Swiss trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti has finally realized his dream project. Anchored by a core of world-class musicians (guitarist John Scofield, bassist Scott Colley, pianist Uri Caine, drummer Peter Erskine) and featuring a 22-piece string orchestra conducted by Grammy-winning pianist-arranger Alan Broadbent, Ambrosetti’s Nora is his answer to Charlie Parker with Strings and Clifford Brown with Strings, both cherished albums from his youth.
New 3D sound technology will offer listeners a new sonic experience when they cue up Nora. As producer Jeff Levenson noted, “It’s felt, nuances and all. The effect had me sitting on the stage of Carnegie Hall, the musicians wrapped around me 270 degrees.” That immersive listening experience only heightens the depth of elegance and romance felt throughout Nora, which also harkens back to the lush Sinatra-Jenkins collaborations from yesterday, with Franco being cast as the crooner of choice, caressing each note with uncanny feeling coming through his flugelhorn. “When you’re in your 20s, you want to play as fast as you can and as high as you can, like Clifford,” said the 80-year-old Swiss jazz icon. “But somewhere after turning 50, then you concentrate on more important things and you try to say something with just a few notes, but the right ones, like Miles Davis did. Miles is the inspiration for every trumpet in their later age.”
Ambrosetti conveys rare passion behind every note he blows on Nora, delivering in typically elegant fashion on a program of romantic ballads and melodic gems. In this relaxed environment, it’s hard not to be caught up in the majestic sweep of Broadbent’s sumptuous strings or Franco’s golden-toned flugelhorn. Simple and direct yet brimming with romance, Nora casts the same kind of spell on listeners as Charlie Parker with Strings did on the young Swiss trumpeter when he first heard that pivotal album as a teenager. “My father had all of Bird’s records,” Franco said of his alto sax-playing father Flavio, a pioneering figure on the 1940s European jazz scene. “In fact, he was embraced by Parker at the 1949 Festival International de Jazz in Paris, the first time that bebop musicians played in Europe. My father was playing there in a quintet led by Swiss trumpeter Hazy Osterwald. They were in the official program. After the concert, all the musicians went to one of the nightclubs in Paris to jam and my father was on stage playing ‘Lover Man.’ Charlie Parker was sitting in the audience of the club and he stood up after my father played and went up embraced him and said, ‘Yeah. Good, man.’ I wish it would happen to me, right? Charlie Parker was the father of all of us.”
Rather than emulating Bird in full flight, Ambrosetti mines something more subdued and luxurious on Nora. From his stirring opener, “Nora’s Theme,” a composition he had originally written as the main theme for a 1997 theater production of Ibsen’s House of Dolls that his wife Silli starred in, to the poignant closer, a faithful reading of John Coltrane’s sublime ballad, “After the Rain,” Franco channels a lifetime of expression into a few well-placed notes, while the strings provide gently affecting touches along the way. “When you have so much support from strings, I don’t think it’s wise to add too much,” he explained. “So you try to be essential, playing only the most important things that come into your mind. It’s what in German is called ‘speichern,’ or ‘saving notes,’ where you’re trying to do only what you feel in that very moment.”
George Gruntz’s romantic “Morning Song of a Spring Flower,” a tune that Ambrosetti played often as a member of the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band from 1972 to 1991, features the first contribution from guest guitarist John Scofield, who brings his highly expressive string-bending prowess to bear in subtle yet meaningful ways. On the Miles Davis’ classic, “All Blues,” Colley underscores the proceedings with the familiar Ron Carter bass line while the strings sound the familiar refrain. Franco plays the melody with tasty restraint before heading into a stellar solo that generates some sparks along the way. “The string ensemble gets a chance to shine on this number,” said Broadbent. “You have to be very careful writing jazz phrases for strings, but here I think they swing as hard as you can get.”
There’s a genuine sense of longing in Franco’s intimate flugelhorn cries on Victor Feldman’s “Falling in Love,” fueled by Broadbent’s tender string orchestration. Caine adds a delicate piano solo to the graceful proceedings. On a haunting rendition of the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves,” underscored by Broadbent’s Gordon Jenkins-ish strings, Ambrosetti opens with muted flugelhorn before switching to open-blowing and delivering this melancholy gem with a touch of class. His “Sweet Journey” is given a mellow treatment with lush strings along with some understated piano accompaniment and sparse soloing from Caine. Their interpretation of John Dankworth’s romantic “It Happens Quickly” unfolds softly and gently. Franco’s warm flugelhorn conveys a quiet sense of rapture as it blends with Broadbent’s luxurious, swirling strings. Released Sept. 30th on Enja Records, Nora may be the high-water mark in his illustrious career.
Visit online at francoambrosetti.com