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US debut for Francesco Amenta

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    Posted: 05 May 2021 at 7:35pm
Available April 23, 2021

FRANCESCO AMENTA is releasing MIDTOWN WALK, his second album as a leader, featuring mostly original tunes penned by the composer, tenor saxophonist, and pianist. Amenta was born and raised in Italy but has been living in New York City since 2017, where he has become a regular on the city’s jazz scene.
MIDTOWN WALK is produced by Grammy winning bass player JOHN LEE, who had a long association with Dizzy Gillespie and has worked with many top jazz artists, including Monty Alexander, Larry Coryell, Roy Hargrove, and Antonio Hart, among many others. The album also features a top-notch band, including CYRUS CHESTNUT. With over 30 projects as a leader, he is one of the most highly regarded pianists of his generation. Also featured are bass player KIMON KAROUTZOS and female drummer GARY KEREZOU, both of whom are native of Greece and, like Amenta, expatriates living in New York City. Karoutzos’ credits include Terence Blanchard, Wycliffe Gordon, and Greg Hutchison, while Kerezou has been gaining a reputation as a young drum master. She has played with Chris Brubeck, Jacob Collier, and Christian McBride.
Amenta hails from Modena in Northern Italy, a city close to Bologna, which has been a crossing point since the end of WWII for many American artists touring Europe (such as Steve Grossman and Jessie Davis), which contributed to its swing and bebop tradition. Amenta began playing the sax at the age of 16. Since there were no dedicated jazz schools in Italy at the time, he trained privately and with some of the American artists living in the city (including, among others, Eddie Henderson) and later attended the jazz conservatory in Bologna. Amenta’s love for jazz started off by listening to a cassette tape of Sonny Rollins, who became a major influence on his artistic development.
Amenta began attending seminars at the Siena Jazz Academy and at the Urbino Jazz Club, a cultural organization that sponsors concerts and jam sessions, among its many activities. The seminars afforded Amenta with the opportunity to play in big bands with some of the top Italian jazz musicians as well as with American artists like Eddie Henderson and George Garzone. He continued his music studies at the Conservatory in Verona with Barry Harris and then at the American School of Modern Music in Paris with Johnny Griffin and Charles Lloyd. While in Paris, he won a competition to attend the prestigious Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Netherlands, where he studied with many great European and American jazz artists, like Dave Liebman and Joshua Redman. Entrance to the conservatory was extremely competitive, as they accepted just two students from each European country.
The Netherlands became Amenta’s home base. He spent 10 years living and working around the country and throughout Europe, playing in clubs and at festivals. He also worked on various theater projects and on the soundtrack for a Dutch movie that was part of the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. He released his first album, Colors and Ties, in 2015 while living in The Netherlands.
As a jazz musician, Amenta was drawn to New York City’s vibrant music scene and made his first visit in 2015. He spent three weeks playing at jam sessions, making connections, and just enjoying the hustle and bustle of the city. He came back again in 2017 for a three-month visit, but met the woman who became his wife, applied for a work permit, and has been a resident ever since.
Amenta says, “I loved studying traditional jazz styles in Italy and the Netherlands, but jazz is a style of music that always evolves, and there’s no better place to hear a broad range of jazz styles than in New York City. As a musician, I want to learn and grow, and New York provides the fertile ground for anyone’s musical growth.”
Amenta’s sax playing has a rich, full tone. There is a lyrical quality to both his playing and composing that is very inviting. He easily conveys feeling and warmth without being emotional or cloying. “For me, composing is storytelling,” says Amenta. “I might write about my family and my experiences. Or I might write a piece just about my impressions of a beautiful day. What’s important for me is the emotional immediacy of an experience, which I try to capture in my compositions.”
MIDTOWN WALK comprises seven of Amenta’s compositions and one piece by Duke Ellington, “Come Sunday,” which Amenta wanted to record because of his love for Ellington’s music. The other seven tunes convey Amenta’s impressions of his life in the United States.
He opens the album with “Dancing,” which he wrote for his wife, who is a dancer. The tune is not a “dance tune”; rather, it has a pop feel and expresses his appreciation for the rhythmic qualities of dance. “Home,” a bluesy composition which opens with an intro by Chestnut, is Amenta’s impressions of the street life of his new home, New York City. “Bunch of Time” opens with a lengthy bass solo. It is a funky, jazz groove-based number inspired by Herbie Hancock and Roy Hargrove. “Number 9” is a modal composition inspired by pianist McCoy Tyner, whom Amenta first heard in concert in NYC. “06/22” is a date with a lot of significance for Amenta. It is the date of his first gig as a leader in New York and the day his father died. “Travelers” is about Amenta himself. He got the idea for the tune from an interview he did in which the writer pictured him as a traveler, in reference to the many places he has lived and his many peregrinations playing music. In “Burgundy 45,” Amenta represents a mix of American musical styles, from traditional New Orleans to blues to swing. He named it after a shopping trip with his wife, who had to buy a burgundy T-shirt for a dance recital. Amenta found himself with an armload of burgundy shirts as his wife was trying to decide on the perfect one for the show.
Amenta’s genuinely warm personality shines through his playing and compositions on this album. Backed by a top-notch band that is completely in sync with his attitude and approach, MIDTOWN WALK is an auspicious American recording debut for Francesco Amenta.
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MIDTOWN WALK was released on April 23, 2021 and is available everywhere.
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