If piano is the instrument on which Europeans are most prominent in jazz, trumpet is next: Think Tomasz Stanko, Enrico Rava, Kenny Wheeler and, more recently, Mathias Eick. Franco Ambrosetti is in that mix. He often works in groups led by bassist Miroslav Vitous, where his selective contributions can be striking in their off-center lyricism. But Ambrosetti’s latest album as a leader is more nice than striking. In the current jazz marketplace, flooded with CDs, nice does not get you noticed. In his liner notes, Ambrosetti says that working with Vitous exposed him to “a different, wider and surprising world ... away from the well-known orthodoxy.” Yet Cycladic Moods is often predictable, even generic, within in its category of postmodern modal jazz.
Competency is not an issue. Pianist Geri Allen sounds somewhat under wraps, but her measured forays are poetic. Tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton is conventional yet muscular and fluent. Ambrosetti’s own solos, in his wide range of trumpet colors, are always personal. Drummer Nasheet Waits makes this refined music snap. The only weak link is Ambrosetti’s son Gianluca, with his thin, unattractive soprano saxophone tone.
The centerpiece is not the suite that gives the album its name, but “Mirobop,” a 21-minute breakout on a line by Vitous. This is the track intended to embody the ensemble objectives announced by Ambrosetti in his liner notes: “free improvisation” and “unexpected new paths” based on “intense listening to each other.” But because the spontaneous exchanges conform to familiar patterns of the free-jazz genre, they are less exciting than Ambrosetti intends.
But then you come to the last song, a lovely, fervent reading of Horace Silver’s “Peace” by Ambrosetti and Allen, and you think, perhaps there is no such thing as too many nice jazz albums.