Amenta Music International
This is the second release and U.S. debut for saxophonist, pianist, and composer Francesco Amenta. The Italian-born, now New York City based Amenta enlists some premiere players or this effort including co-producer John Lee (best known as Dizzy Gillespie’s bassist and producer for Larry Coryell, Roy Hargrove, Antonio Hart, others), renowned pianist Cyrus Chestnut, and ex-pats from Greece/New York-based bassist Kimon Karoutzos and female drummer Gary Kerezou for straight-ahead acoustic jazz. Prior to coming to the states Amenta attended a small music school in Bolgna, continues ar the Conservatory of Verona with Barry Harris, and at the American School of Modern Music in Paris with Johnny Griffin and Charles Lloyd. He furthered his studies at The Hague in Holland, attending the Royal Conservatory where he studied with Joshua Redman and Dave Liebman. His first album, Colors and Ties, was released in 2015 when he resided in The Netherlands.
Midtown Walk features seven Amenta originals and extended version of Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday.” The quartet opens with “Dancing,” written for wife, who is dancer but is not a dance tune per se, imbued with lyricism and some varying rhythm patterns that convey his appreciation for the art of dance. “Home’ features one of today’s best pianists as Cyrus Chestnut takes the intro to “Home,” Amenta’s impressions of street life in his adopted home of New York. Throughout Amenta’s tenor has a rich, lyrical tone that stays steady, warm, and comforting, devoid of any aggressive screeching or honking that characterizes the more exploratory players. His accent is clearly on the lyrical, conveying brightness and joy.
Karoutzos’ lengthy bass solo leads into “Bunch of Time,” which evolves into a funky, snappy, groove-based tune inspired by Herbie Hancock and the late Roy Hargrove. Kerezou’s drumming is interesting in that she stays in the pocket with the beat rather than feverishly working her kit, which this tune lends itself to. You’ll hear strains of McCoy Tyner in the modal “Number 9” while “6/22” is arguably the most emotive piece here, one that has some solemn and melancholic tonality as it marks Amenta’s first date as a leader in New York and also the day his father died. Chestnut and Karoutzoz both deliver inventive solos that match the heartfelt expression of the leader.
The upbeat cooker “Traveler” speaks directly to Amenta for his many countries lived in as well as the meandering journeys reflected in his solo flights. Again, while Amenta is the leader, Chestnut’s animated, articulate and passionate playing continually shines. The title and mix of styles of “Burgundy 45” gives an insight into Amenta’s humor as it’s named for his wife’s shopping trip for a burgundy t-shirt for a dance recital that resulted in multiple purchases as she couldn’t decide on a single one. He reflects this broad swath of choice sin the music by touching on traditional New Orleans to blues to swing, to his favorite, the straight-ahead jazz style.
“Come Sunday” has long been regarded as one of America’s deepest spiritual pieces and the quartet plays it faithfully, tenderly, and touchingly for a full almost 12 minutes, befitting the respect that Amenta (and likely the others) has for Duke Ellington’s music. This one features some of the leader’s robust tones and, as expected, shimmering piano from Chestnut and another imaginative bass excursion by Karoutzoz.
Amenta’s auspicious U.S. debut is warm, comforting, and relaxing with a nice balance of lyricism and emotion. It bodes well for future offerings.
- Jim Hynes
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