Thursday, January 10, 2013

Franck Amsallem performs in Jerusalem

Franck Amsallem (photo:Franck Bigotte)
Franck Amsallem was born in 1961 in Oran, Algeria and grew up in Nice, France. He began piano lessons at age seven but gave up after some time. However, listening to the family’s large collection of LPs, Amsallem fell in love with blues and swing in his teens and, considered too old to take up the piano, he signed up for classical saxophone lessons at the Nice Conservatory, and with great success. With his main love was still the piano, he went to work in Monte Carlo, learning the gamut of jazz standards and jamming with some of the greatest names of the jazz community. Amsallem has always loved American music. In 1981, he relocated to the USA to study at Berklee College, Boston for three years, studying composition and arranging, but not jazz piano, however, performing and winning several awards. He then studied at the Manhattan School of Music (New York) in 1986, earning a Master’s degree in Composition, emerging as an accompanist and leader. With the influence of his teachers, among them jazz musician Bob Brookmeyer and Phil Kawin (classical piano), and being involved in the New York jazz scene, Amsallem became aware that there were “many pianists out there, but good pianists who are equally good composers”, in his own words. What followed was a volley of commissions for compositions, successful recordings and performances worldwide - from solo performances to playing with symphony orchestras, with big- and small bands and with local musicians.  His suite “Nuits” for jazz quartet and string orchestra has been performed in Romania, Bulgaria, France and Los Angeles. Returning to Paris in 2002, now considered one of Europe’s leading jazz pianists, Amsallem has of late also incorporated singing in recordings and live performances.

Franck Amsallem was a guest of the Gerard Bechar Centre (Jerusalem) and the Romain Gary Institut Fran├žais (he also performs under the auspices of the Alliance Fran├žaise) in a solo recital January 6th 2013 in the Leo Model Hall. He began the program with some jazz standards by Thelonius Monk – “Ask Me Now”, “Evidence”, “Just You, Just Me”. The artist’s solid touch, his use of dissonances, angular melodies and improvisations hinted at Monk’s own personal style.  Amsallem then performed an original composition “Out a Day”, a pensive, nostalgic piece based on “Night and Day”. Another original piece was “In Memoriam”, dedicated to the memory of the American jazz saxophonist and composer Michael Brecker. Here Amsallem used some otherworldly pedaled effects in this personal mood piece – one hears bells and eerie muted effects - these punctuated by a warm recurring melody and occasionally agitated moments.

From his debut vocal CD - “Amsallem Sings” (FRAM MUSIC) – we heard the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein 1932 favorite “The Song is You”. With crystal clear diction and fine American English, Amsallem’s singing is up-front, resonant, nuanced and natural, his signature vocal timbre ever so slightly gritty.  His detail and precision have the effect of drawing his audience into the meaning and sentiments of the song.  Another old song, taught to him by his mother, was the 1944 Johnny Burke/James van Heuson popular standard “It Could Happen to You”, the artist also imitating muted trumpets at one point.
‘Hide your heart from sight, lock your dreams at night,
It could happen to you.
Don’t count stars, or you might stumble.
Someone drops a sigh, and down you tumble…’
Franck Amsallem has a penchant for George Gershwin’s music, hence his piano medley incorporating melodies from “Porgy and Bess”.

“In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” (1955) was composed by David Mann and lyricist Bob Hilliard in the course of a post-midnight impromptu song-writing session at Hilliard’s New Jersey home. Amsallem’s treatment of it was a lush- and sophisticated weaving of piano- and vocal lines. His directness, sincerity, his well sculpted phrases and velvety voice bring these old songs back to life, expressing their romantic, simple sentiments with respect to what they are and with no hint of sarcasm.

Amsallem’s own composition “Paris Remains in My Heart”, sung by him partly in French, partly in English and punctuated by a piano interlude, tells of returning to Paris. Intimate and touching, with the lure and magic of Paris wound together with personal emotional complexities coloring the song, the piece presents layers of autobiographical elements.

For his encore, Franck Amsallem performed the 1945 Joseph Kosma/Jacques Prevert song “Les feuilles mortes” (The Falling Leaves) concluding a program of sophisticated music, good taste and fine performance.

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