Algerian-born, French-raised and Paris-based, Franck Amsallem spent close to three decades establishing himself as a fine pianist with a dense, bright style that suggests equal parts Keith Jarrett and Bill Charlap. Then, five years ago, he decided to follow in the footsteps of Nat Cole and Diana Krall, releasing Amsallem Sings. Clearly one for plainspoken titles, he now adds Sings, Vol. II.
Cole and Krall proved, of course, preternaturally gifted vocalists. Amsallem is not. Reminiscent of another instrumentalist who dabbled with vocals, Chet Baker, his voice is thin and slightly atonal. As with Baker, it’s a voice that takes some getting used to, yet grows increasingly captivating over time.
Amsallem Sings was a solo, all-standards outing. This time around, he adds trio-mates Sylvain Romano (bass) and Karl Jannuska (drums) to positive effect. Again, the focus of the 10-track playlist is standards, the mood oscillating between jaunty (“Never Will I Marry,” “Just One of Those Things”) and reflectively mellow (“If You Could See Me Now,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “The Second Time Around,” “Two for the Road”). Amsallem, like Baker, emerges as a tremendously effective, often mesmeric storyteller, most notably on the album’s sole original, “Paris Remains in My Heart.” Co-written with Elisabeth Kontomanou, the tender postcard to Amsallem’s adopted hometown is an absolute charmer.