Pianist Franck Amsallem's seventh record comes from a familiar angle, exploring the range of possibilities within a traditional jazz group. His sophisticated attitude toward the music gives it a rarified cosmopolitan feel, but that's only a mask for the quiet passion that lurks within. In this particular case he leads a trio and combines original material with standards, each tune coming in at a polite range from five to nine minutes in length.
It's impressive that Sunnyside managed to misspell the artist's name on both the cover and the spine of the disc; I doubt Franck has just shortened his name to Frank. He hails from Algeria via Paris, so the correct name makes sense, though he's lived in the US for over 20 years.
Amsallem's trio in this case conjoins him with his familiar partner Johannes Weidenmuller on bass and relative newcomer (for him, anyway) Joe Chambers on drums. The latter plays an important role in organizing a distinct sound here. On "Tom's Tune," for example, he lends a gentle percolating swing that sways and bobs but absolutely never lets go of timekeeping. Never busy, never aggressive, never in your face, Chambers burbles along in the background with enough perk and interaction to keep the pace interesting.
Likewise, Weidenmuller swings away on the bass, though he also comes across comfortable setting up more relaxed pulsing lines during quiet moments (as on "Laila's"). But the real star here, without a doubt, is the pianist. He fits less than perfectly into the mold of modern jazz pianist, deeply respectful of tradition but with a surprisingly limber and open feel, top to bottom. Melodic without dragging themes out, restless but genteel, he's not too far away from Keith Jarrett or other ECM pianists.
Amsallem's personal niche is a warm and inviting one. His liner notes admit that the "piano in my hands is mightier than the pen" (a humble assertion within that context). Mighty might not be the word I'd use, but Summer Times has its own reserved strength, and to be honest it's a welcome treat in the fading weeks of the sunny season. "Summertime" is a familiar experience, but it's different each time around.
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