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Franck Amsallem: Amsallem Sings

Bruce Lindsay By

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Thirty years into a career which has seen Algerian-born Frank Amsallem playing piano with musicians as diverse as Joshua Redman, Gary Peacock and Danny Gatton, Amsallem Sings is his debut recording as a vocalist. It's a solo album—Amsallem accompanies himself on piano, without the support of any other players, so that the album stands or falls by his performance alone. The album oozes charm, the selection of vocal standards is given a fresh and very personal perspective and the result is virtually guaranteed to lift the spirits.

It would be wrong to suggest that Amsallem's voice displays a constant command of jazz vocal technique—there are moments, such as the opening of "I Concentrate on You," when his voice doesn't quite reach its target. But the enthusiasm and honesty with which Amsallem invests every single vocal performance is such that these lapses in technical ability can be readily forgiven. His vocal on Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's "The Song is You" epitomises this enthusiastic, open approach—it's a joyous, bop-inspired, delight.

An obvious comparison is with Chet Baker's voice—fragile, imperfect, but engaging and heartfelt. Amsallem has more vocal power than Baker, however, as he shows on his reflective version of "But Beautiful." Indeed, on some tunes a more valid comparison would be with Mose Allison—a bluesy take on "Willow Weep For Me"—or even British singer and pianist Jamie Cullum, on Kern and Johnny Mercer's "I'm Old Fashioned" or Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green and Betty Comden's "Lucky to be Me" from On The Town.

The album's standout track is Hoagy Carmichael's "I Get Along Without You Very Well"—a song that Baker has also recorded (Chet Baker Sings, Pacific Jazz, 1956). Amsallem's version is less plaintive than Baker's—he looks back on the old romance with fondness and affection, as well as sadness—and his piano playing sits perfectly with his vocal mood.

Amsallem has built his reputation as a pianist, not as a vocalist, and his accompaniments on this album happily add to this reputation. He has the confidence to play sparingly, never attempting to overwhelm his vocals with unnecessary displays of virtuosity, and as a result his playing connects emotionally with each lyric. As a title Amsallem Sings tells less than half the story. Amsallem sings and plays, with great charm, and creates a refreshing and affecting album of classic songs.

Track Listing: Come Rain or Come Shine; Dream; I Get Along Without You Very Well; The Song is You; I Concentrate on You; But Beautiful; In my Solitude; Willow Weep For Me; I'm Old Fashioned; I'm Thru With Love; Lucky to be Me; In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.

Personnel: Franck Amsallem: vocals, piano.

Title: Amsallem Sings | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: FRAM

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