Franco Ambrosetti by John Abbott
Photo: John Abbott / Courtesy of hubtone PR

Franco Ambrosetti Band’s Ballads Are Gorgeous on ‘Lost Within You’

Using nearly the same band of all-star American players as on 2019’s Long Waves, Swiss trumpet veteran Franco Ambrosetti makes an all-ballad collection that does more than sing.

Lost Within You
Franco Ambrosetti Band
Unit Records
29 January 2021

Lost Within You follows up on a delightful studio date by the Swiss trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti made with almost the same band of American all-star jazz players two years prior. Ambrosetti has long been one of his continent’s most fluid jazz improvisers, playing in the post-bop tradition of ballads, blues, standards, and tonal modernism. It is plain from both the new recording and 2019’s Long Waves that the rhythm section of bassist Scott Colley and drummer Jack DeJohnette relish playing alongside his burnished tone and easy swing.

This second recital for the band focuses strictly on ballads, with Ambrosetti playing the flugelhorn, the trumpet’s slightly more mellow-toned cousin. He is complemented not only by Colley and DeJohnette but also guitarist John Scofield and either Uri Caine or Renee Rosnes on piano. Rosnes opens up McCoy Tyner’s timeless “You Taught My Heart to Sing” without too much sentimentality, and Ambrosetti gives us the “A” section of the tune with a slightly frayed beauty in his flugel voice. The bridge is juiced a touch by Scofield’s signature guitar tone, which is almost a clean jazz bell, but one with a vinegar edge. Sco’s opening solo is a great reminder of why his playing is equally at home with a classicist like Ambrosetti or a jam band: he bends notes like B.B. King and plays fluid runs like Jim Hall in the same short statement. This track puts all the elements of the group in balance.

Most of the recording, however, breaks the players into smaller bands, creating interest despite a lack of variation in tempos.

Two Ambrosetti originals are on the program. “Silli in the Sky” uses a quintet to create a gentle Latin rhythm that makes a perfect vehicle for one of Scofield’s most laconic solos. He winds his way around the chord changes with a casual grace that pops with his usual bits of electric guitar sting. The leader’s “Dreams of a Butterfly” is for a quartet, beginning with an impressionistic geometry between flugelhorn and piano after which Colley enters with a propulsive rising bass line that is met by a dancing DeJohnette groove. It remains a ballad but sets up both Ambrosetti and Caine to take lovely improvisations. The flugelhorn keeps things mellow while Caine’s piano turns the song into a small fiesta, with two-handed dialogue and blues figures popping in the upper register while staying within the song’s contemplative mood.

Caine is even better on a cool quartet reading of the standard “Body and Soul”. Though Colley and Ambrosetti also play long solos, Caine steals this one, piling up cascades of chords that seem to reharmonize the song in long waves of joy. As each chorus passes, Caine comes up with another great idea, finishing with 32 bars that begin in rat-a-tat conversation with DeJohnettes’s toms and ends in a delicate sing-note tinkle that sets up the bass solo. “People Time” by Benny Carter also hands Caine the trio for a truly elegant solo before Ambrosetti comes in to up the ante.

Rosnes’s best moment on Lost Within You is on “Flamenco Sketches”, the modal classic from Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. We all know the tune a little bit too well, but she imbues it with a new feeling, leaning into its Iberian elements and dramatically crashes low octaves while she shimmers in the instrument’s highest register. She is also a sensitive accompanist on Cy Coleman’s rarely played “I’m Gonna Laugh Right Out of My Life”. Her piano and Colley’s bass move in gorgeous parallel, unaided by drums. This configuration—horn, piano, bass—is one we don’t hear almost ever, but it seems natural here. Ambrosetti’s tone shines just a bit more without the skitter of percussion, and when Rosnes solos it is really a duet with Colley, giving them each the chance to create (or subtract) little bits of rhythmic momentum or syncopation in the small grace notes or percussive touches that they add.

The only other appearance by Scofield’s guitar is also on a track without drums. Horace Silver’s essential ballad “Peace” begins as a piano/flugelhorn duet featuring the keyboard skills of Jack DeJohnette. The drummer has always played delicious piano on some of his own recordings, and he starts the recording with his upper register arpeggiations and chiming chords. No one can use silence like a drummer, and DeJohnette lets the quiet capture the overtones of his piano, leaving great holes in his introduction. Ambrosetti enters slyly, rising up into theme, and Scofield and Colley slip cautiously into the performance later in the first chorus. The tempo is fluid, implied at first, and then finally caught into a loping ballad feeling. The guitar solo begins the interpretations, sounding naked and exposed, allowing the piano to arrive with something more lush and creamy, finally setting up the leader to deliver a solo that might as well be a melting mass of cinnamon—sugary, sure, but with bite and an undertone of melancholy darkness. Yum.

A program like Lost Within You, of course, flirts with being too pretty some of the time. On the one hand, the sumptuous reading of Dave Grusin’s lovely “Love Like Ours” is a pearl. It is truly a sung thing, lyrical and nuanced. It is the kind of performance we need from an instrumentalist at Ambrosetti’s age because a young virtuoso wouldn’t be able to slow down like this and imbue the music with earned romantic wisdom. On the other hand, the album as a whole suffer a bit from so much loveliness.

But this is nit-picking. With just enough contrast in the form of band configuration, the stinging, bent tones of John Scofield, and the pianistic dramatics of Uri Caine, Franco Ambrosetti has put together another winning collection. Lost Within You knows that there is more to a ballad than just pretty. But it is gorgeous all the same.

RATING 7 / 10