Nora (enja records)

Franco Ambrosetti

Released October 12, 2022

DownBeat Four-and-a-Half-Star Review

Jazziz Critics’ Picks 2022




Growing up in Lugano, Switzerland, the son of a pioneering bebop alto saxophonist on the 1940s European jazz scene, a teenaged Franco Ambrosetti came under the sway of his father’s heroes — Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown. They became his heroes too as the aspiring trumpeter began emulating their blistering chops and visceral abandon. Now, at age 80, Franco is following a different muse. After nearly 40 albums as a leader, he has reached a point in his career where caressing each note is more important to him than showcasing chops. “When you’re in your 20s, you want to play as fast as you can and as high as you can, like Clifford,” he said. “But somewhere after turning 50, then you concentrate on more important things and you try to say something with just a few notes, but the right ones, like Miles Davis did.”
Franco plays all the right notes in typically elegant fashion on Nora. Backed by an all-world group of pianist Uri Caine, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Peter Erskine, with a guest turn by guitarist John Scofield, plus Grammy-winning pianist-arranger Alan Broadbent conducting a 22-piece string orchestra, Ambrosetti plumbs the depth of emotion on this program of romantic ballads, delivered with rare intimacy and grace. Possessing a golden tone on flugelhorn, he ruminates and tells stories on each of these melodic gems.
Rather than emulating Bird’s ferocity on “Ornithology” or the intensity of Clifford Brown’s “Cherokee,” Franco mines something more luxurious on Nora – a spirit closer to Charlie Parker with Strings (Bird’s lush 1950 album on Mercury Records) or Clifford Brown with Strings (his 1955 album on EmArcy).
Franco turned to Broadbent, whose empathetic approach proved perfect: “My method is to have the orchestra involved in what I call a subsong, where the ensemble is playing its own melody, lifting and expressing things in quiet counterpoint with the lead song. This is an older style I’ve identified with since I was a boy, influenced of course by Gordon Jenkins and Nelson Riddle. But my harmonic approach to string writing is completely different from theirs, more jazz-oriented. I like to think that I have found my own voice as an arranger/composer. I believe this attracted Franco to me, like musical souls finding each other.”

Track Listing:

1. Nora’s Theme 06:37

2. Morning Song 07:05

3. All Blues 07:48

4. Falling in Love 05:32

5. Autumn Leaves 05:54

6. Sweet Journey 06:37

7. It Happened Quitetly 06:03

8. After the Rain 08:23


Franco Ambrosetti: trumpet, flugelhorn

John Scofield: guitar

Uri Caine: piano

Scott Colley: bass

Peter Erskine: drums

Sara Caswell: violin

Alan Broadbent: arranger, conductor

Recorded February 14-17, 2022, at Sear Sound Studio, NY,

Recorded and Mixed by Jim Anderson

Assistant Enginnering and Mixing: Ulrike Schwarz, Dan Thompson


Producer Jeff Levenson has lined up all-star collaborators and a 22-piece orchestra to abet 80-year-old Franco Ambrosetti’s long-envisioned entry in the super-romantic jazz-withstrings subgenre, influenced by classic albums of Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Ben Webster, Stan Getz and Miles Davis. Nora earns a proud place among those, attaining distinction as an especially reflective, autumnal vision of beauty and connectedness. Throughout the entire low-light, hold-meclose program, the Swiss brass man applies limpid fluidity and mournful grace with enormous conviction to rich writing and exacting conducting by Alan Broadbent — who inspires the strings to swing and sway naturally on the waltz “All Blues,” and elsewhere hover like spirits or plumb deep blue depths. On “After the Rain,” gloriously, they do both at once. As for the jazz players: Scott Colley’s solid bass serves as their spine, connecting with Erskine’s thoughtful, uplifting, subtly propulsive drumming. Guitarist John Scofield shadows Ambrosetti on George Gruntz’s “Morning Song” then reconceives it; they’re reverente on Coltrane’s ballad, while sustaining their own sounds. Pianist Caine is complementary to dynamics and mood, at times adds drive, contrast and even touches of funk, modestly throughout. Ambrosetti’s long, unhurriedly floating lines, his aching upward reaches and rueful low confessions add up to a heroically conclusive statement, and it’s set in gold.

Howard Mandel (DownBeat)