Who hasn’t heard of the Belmondo brothers?
Stéphane, flamboyant disciple of Chet Baker and Freddie Hubbard, one of the lyrical masters of his instrument, is among the most highly respected trumpet players on this side of the Atlantic.
Lionel, the saxophonist, has been a tireless artisan of a greater synergy between different musical styles; merging the souls of Lili Boulanger and Yusef Lateef, combining Coltrane’s spirit with French liturgical traditions, and carrying the torch for jazz into the world of post-impressionistic classical music.
For over a quarter of a century these two exceptional musicians have undertaken an impressive number of musical adventures, always supported by the members of their quintet, who have followed the brothers in the course of their artistic explorations no matter in which direction it has taken them
The Belmondo Quintet was founded at the end of the 1980s by Lionel and Stéphane, who have been musical partners since childhood.
Rapidly, on stage and in recordings, the group made its mark on the French jazz scene, fervently defending the right to play a resolutely acoustic, intense and spiritual music that updated the modern jazz concepts developed by artists such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Wayne Shorter.
Trained in the harsh school of reading, listening, standards and imitation, the Belmondo brothers have always been immersed in music, under the influence of their father Yvan, saxophonist, impresario and pedagogue, who died in December 2019 — they had recorded by his side, six years earlier, in sextet the album “Mediterranean Sound” in memory of their childhood in this land of anchorage of Provence, between Toulon and Hyères, where they set up their first formations and, from Michel Petrucciani to Thomas Bramerie, forged their first musical friendships.
“Brotherhood” is only the fifth album the Belmondo Quintet has recorded in its career. It heralds the return to the recording studio for a group, which over the course of its rich and tumultuous existence has included a veritable who’s who of the French jazz world, and has been an example for several generations of French musicians.
Arriving in Paris from their native Var region with their directness, their strong accent, and their intensity both on and off the stage, the Belmondo brothers have been a major influence on French jazz, having refocused on the basics, working passionately and with a tireless gift for transmission both to musicians of their generation and the next one, reigniting the sputtering flame of a music that had sometimes strayed from its goal and its substance.
Launched in their late teens, the quintet has been the main vehicle for this profession of faith. Among the musicians who have regularly been a part of the group over the years, in chronological order; the pianists Philippe Milanta, Balthasar Thomass (now a philosopher), Henri Florens, Laurent Fickelson and Eric Legnini; the bassists Thomas Bramerie, Rémi Vignolo (now a drummer), Clovis Nicolas, Paul Imm and Sylvain Romano; the drummers Bruno Ziarelli, Jean-Pierre Arnaud, Philippe Soirat, Laurent Robin, Dré Pallemaerts and Tony Rabeson.
Spread over more than a quarter of a century, the rich memory of this group innervates this new opus placed under the seal of fraternity, family and musical.
If music is immaterial, its flesh is made of the experience and exchanges of those who create it; it carries with it the memory of travels, endless conversations, shouting matches and reunions, euphoria and failures, inspired impulses to shared records, anecdotes and drunkenness…
From the first concerts in the bars of Marseille to appearances in the biggest festivals via the rue des Lombards, the artery of Parisian jazz, of which the Belmondo brothers are beloved and familiar figures.
Jazz invented this fraternity of men and women who chose each other as companions in adventure and emotion, know-how and creation.
Few arts have provided such a fertile and innovative example for inventing forms, developing together, respecting the singularity of individuals without giving up the power of the collective.
A jazz quintet is in the image of this microcosm, articulating the singular and the plural, combining timbres and energies in the service of a common vibration, closely associating responsibility and freedom, confidence and risk-taking, under the gaze of peers.
If Lionel and Stéphane Belmondo have found in this format for so long a space that suits them — like many modern jazz groups, from the Jazz Messengers to Woody Shaw’s quintet via Gigi Gryce’s Jazz Lab and Donald Byrd, the groups of Horace Silver or that of the Adderley brothers, the “Second Quintet” of Miles Davis, and so on — it is because the complementarity of their timbres flourish there, the common intuition that ‘they have developed music, the tensions and affections specific to their contrasting characters, the inspirations and influences that have run through them since the beginning…
A whole ensemble that gives the music its relief and its breaths, its dynamics and its impulses, perceptible in the multiple ways they have of listening to and responding to each other, in their confused breaths and their mixed sounds.
Entirely made up of new compositions, “Brotherhood” activates the memory of those who preceded and inspired the Belmondo brothers, without getting lost in nostalgia.
Lionel Belmondo remembers that when he presented new songs to Yusef Lateef, with whom the brothers recorded the album “Influence” in 2005 and conducted several tours, he could not help feeling that these looked like things that already existed and felt the need to apologize to him.
Master Lateef invariably answered him that the music does not belong to anyone, and that he should feel free to appropriate the work of the elders to advance his own.
It is the essence of jazz, to constantly draw inspiration from its tradition to reinvent itself and get back into play, to be in a dialectical movement between its past and its future. The Belmondo brothers have always done it, and speak this language with an authenticity that draws its strength from direct contact with the greatest – Chet Baker, Horace Silver, Johnny Griffin, Lee Konitz, Yusef Lateef, Billy Hart, to name a few of the heroes they met, but also other great veterans like Georges Arvanitas, André Persiany, Guy Lafitte, Toots Thielemans, Pierre Michelot, with whom, together or separately, they traveled — and the fraternal and sincere love they have for them.
An homage to these inspirational figures whose example stimulates their own artistic expression, “Brotherhood” showcases compositions dedicated to musicians who were figureheads during the evolution of the Belmondo Quintet.
Taking up a method initiated by Bach himself, who in l’Art de la Fugue introduced the famous theme based on the four letters of his own name, B.A.C.H, Lionel Belmondo has written a series of four pieces based on the names of those who inspired them: Wayne’s Words for Wayne Shorter; Yusef’s Tree for Yusef Lateef; Letters to Evans for Bill Evans, and Woody ‘n Us for Woody Shaw.
Postulating a system of correspondences between the letters composing the surnames of the musicians and the notes of the scale (A = la, B = si, C = do, etc.), Lionel Belmondo extrapolates in a jazz context a principle put into practice by Maurice Ravel, when he composed for example in 1922 the famous Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré.
Through this approach Lionel has created surprisingly expressive evocations of the musicians who have inspired him.
“Brotherhood” also includes two works by Lionel inspired by French liturgical organ music, particularly in relation to modality: Doxologie and Sirius.
Stéphane Belmondo has composed two works, Prétexte, in the grand high-energy tradition of the quintet, and a ballad dedicated to his late father Yvan Belmondo.
Carried with enthusiasm by the rhythm, Wayne’s Words develops its heady melody on harmonic colors which closely recall the atmosphere of the great albums Blue Note by Wayne Shorter.
A sign of this living memory, the trumpet solo is interspersed with quotations from two musical milestones of the 20th century, Stompin’ at the Savoy and the overture to Le Sacre du Tympanum, while Lionel, succeeding a luminous Eric Legnini, plays a solo of tawny beauty, on edge, with poignant and torn accents, which recalls what flamboyant saxophonist the composer sometimes hides at home.
A nod to the respect that Yusef Lateef had for nature and the allegorical dimension of trees, Yusef’s Tree develops a melody composed on the name of its inspiration, and borrows a bass line that echoes Golden Flute, a composition by Lateef whom the Belmondo brothers played extensively alongside the master on tour.
At the same time meditative and majestic, like its model, the piece opens like a cathedral forest, under the vault of which then resounds a moving tenor solo by Lionel, all in restraint and conciseness.
Under the bewitching dance of Tony Rabeson’s drumsticks, Stéphane Belmondo reveals himself to be more prolific before Eric Legnini rushes forward, criss-crossing with skill between the drumbeats without ever leaving the groove of the groove. In a final inhabited countermelody, the brothers harmoniously revive the presence of the one who called them “Brother Lionel” and “Brother Stéphane”.
Launched by an introduction by Sylvain Romano on the double bass, Prétexte, written by Stéphane Belmondo, recalls all the love that the Belmondo brothers have for modal jazz and the spirit of hard bop.
Biting in the attack and powerful in the breath, Lionel Belmondo‘s solo shimmers with Coltranian reminiscences, when Stéphane unfolds his sentences with funky accents, gradually increasing the tension.
On the superb slenderness of the double bass, Eric Legnini keeps the cap on the swing, of which these musicians seem to have pierced the secret.
Placed under the sign of prayer, Doxologie takes on the appearance of hymns, undulating with a triplet movement which gives it its drive and its heady character.
In its minor colors, the composition opens an introspective path, between shadows and lights, first superbly invested by Stéphane on the flugelhorn, then with more marked accents, by Lionel on the tenor who, by a series of waves with Shorterian echoes, draws the piece towards more lively climates, in turn invested with clarity and distinction by Eric Legnini.
Invitation to contemplation, the finale takes on glorious accents in the unison of the brass until the end of the breath.
Developed in 5/4 and from a series of fourths released from his name, Woody ‘n Us is a tribute to Woody Shaw, ultimate representative of a line of trumpeters who, from Clifford Brown to Freddie Hubbard marked the sky jazz. Looped to the point of obsession, the bass line draws a strange and irregular dance, invested by the whirling of Lionel‘s soprano until trance.
Also based on the letters that make up the pianist’s name, illuminated by a superb introduction by Eric Legnini in solo, Letters to Evans echoes the classical influences of Bill Evans, and the way in which they innervated his talent as an improviser. Underlined by the unison of the flute and the flugelhorn, the melancholy of the melody gives rise to a solo of absolute grace from Eric Legnini.
Inspired by the brightest star in the celestial vault, Sirius, dedicated by Lionel Belmondo to his father, unfolds in a form of simplicity and distinction due to the major character of the composition but also to the serenity of the melody, high and clear.
A reflection on existence and paternity, the circular shape is the sign of permanence, troubled by harmonic changes and modulations that alter its color.
After the tenor and piano solos, the end of the piece stretches dramatically towards the treble, and extends its indeterminacy between major and minor to the final note.
Delicate melody with emotional inflections, Song For Dad, composed by Stéphane Belmondo, is an address to his father Yvan, in which the sound of the flugelhorn is combined with the flute. Carried by Tony Rabeson with perfect delicacy, the momentum and flight of Stéphane’s solo transform this tender ballad into a touching tribute, as sincere as it is modest.
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