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Franck Amsallem Waits for His Time

By Published: November 15, 2003
Despite this paradoxical challenge of the simple, Amsallem himself has never seen a need to stick with the simple for long. Instead he has tried to take his music further down the road of the complex and intricate, developing some strong professional ties with likeminded musicians along the way. Among this coterie is saxophonist Tim Ries, a man Amsallem considers a sort of musical soul mate.

"He's a great composer. He's an extremely highly respected musician on the New York scene. We arrived at the same time, played in the same bands, shared the same rehearsal space. To be honest, it's more like... Tim and I, when we play together, I never think twice about what I’m doing. It's like he can read my mind and I can read his mind. It's absolutely effortless. We don't talk much about music. It happens on the bandstand; everything is said musically." Ries, he says, is that rarest of finds in the jazz world – that is, "you on a different instrument" – and together they have collaborated on a number of albums: Is That So? , Regards , Years Gone By and On Second Thought , not to mention Amsallem's work with The PRISM Saxophone Quartet. But for Summer Times , Amsallem used Ries' hectic schedule (he was on a world tour with the Rolling Stones) as a good reason to try something outside of the partnership.

"It's totally done on purpose," he explains. "I think playing with Tim has been an extraordinary experience, but sharing the bandstand with someone is not always the best for your personal career. People assume that I'm a quartet player; but I'm an equally good trio player.” For his studio trio, Amsallem recruited bassist Johannes Weidenmuller and drummer Joe Chambers.

"The nice thing about trio is that it's self-contained, but you can orient the music to where you want it. I think playing the trio is the ultimate art of the pianist, and it's where the pianist wants to be. It tells more than solo because you have the dialogue with other people but you're still the centre of attention." He quickly qualifies that with: "I like to get the drummer and bassist very much involved, unlike some other people who have their trio mates as slaves. I like to play trio sharing."

"He's probably one of my favorite bass players," he says of Weidenmuller. "He's not well recorded but he's incredible: rhythm and superb intonation. And he knows better than better-known bass players how to play with a pianist. He knows how to play the right notes harmonically." The same kind of casual association that brought Weidenmuller to his attention some time ago (he appeared on Amsallem's 2001 live record, On Second Thought ) also led to Chambers' involvement. "We did some tours in 2002. I really admire his playing: his cymbal sound, his brushwork. Joe's playing is very subdued, so it helped me achieve a more relaxed way of playing than I usually have. He's also someone who's taken part in some major records in jazz, and it's nice to have a link with that."

The careful reader might intuit from that statement that Chambers' name may be as beneficial as his talent when it comes to turning heads in Amsallem's direction. That may not be so far from the truth. Amsallem is far from thrilled about the state of his back catalogue. He falls into a sort of trance as he lists his albums – many released within the past decade – that are now out of print or commercially unavailable. " Regards , Another Time , On Second Thought ..."

"You know, the record business is not having a good time right now. The first album was issued in 1992, and it did quite well to establish me. It was licensed to a Japanese company that went bankrupt, then it was licensed to a French company, OMD, and that went bankrupt, and then Challenge Records, and the license expired a year ago. A lot of the Sunnyside catalogue is almost impossible to find outside of the States; a lot of the Challenge catalogue is difficult to find outside of Holland. It's a situation for records that aren't blockbusters." He doesn't anticipate an impending change for the better, either. "I think the Internet will make things available more easily than they used to be," he says, though his voice lacks conviction.

"It's difficult to know if you're doing the right thing when you go for a company. The lesson I learned is that it's good to keep the rights to all of your records, because, God knows, when someone is enthusiastic about the music and wants to do something, I can license the rights to him. I own the masters to five out of six of these records. It's just a matter of time before I find a producer willing to re-release them, and it's always easier when your current record is doing well."

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