Belmondo Quintet ‘Brotherhood’ LP/CD (B-Flat Recordings) 5/5

Brothers Stéphane and Lionel Belmondo are perhaps the most famous siblings of French jazz. Renowned for their collaborations with such luminaries as Yusef Lateef and Milton Nascimento, for over a quarter of a century they have undertaken an impressive number of musical adventures. Stéphane, the 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. Saxophonist Lionel has been a tireless artisan of a greater synergy between different musical styles, merging the souls of Lili Boulanger, Yusef Lateef and John Coltrane, and carrying the torch for jazz into the world of post-impressionistic classical music.

“Brotherhood” is only the fifth album the Belmondo Quintet has recorded in its career. As ever on this wonderful reunion, the brothers lead their all-star quintet In typically mesmerising fashion, with Eric Legnini on piano, Sylvain Romano on double bass, and Tony Rabeson on drums. The album heralds the return to the recording studio for a group, which over the course of its rich and tumultuous existence has included a who’s who of the French jazz world, setting an example for several generations of French musicians along the way, and heralding the resurgence of the brothers’ B-Flat Recording label.

“Brotherhood” pays homage to the band’s inspirational figures in the world of jazz, with an artistic impression that is second to none. Showcasing compositions that are dedicated to musicians who were figureheads during the evolution of the Belmondo Quintet, the recording features the spellbinding original tunes “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. “Brotherhood” also includes two further works by Lionel, inspired by French liturgical organ music, “Doxologie” and “Sirius”, along with two compositions by Stéphane, the high-energy “Prétexte”, and the touching, delicate ballad “Song for Dad”, dedicated to his late father Yvan Belmondo.

Throughout this incredibly impressive album, the music is expressive and evocative, with an expansive, lyrical nature never straying far from the heart of the melody. The tunes are focussed yet free and are performed not only with effortless skill and beauty but also with warmth, compassion and an intuitively understated brilliance that sums up for me what the spirit of jazz truly is. The quintet are on top form here as they perform some of the finest jazz to be heard anywhere in the world right now. The compositions are exceptional and wide-ranging and all share one thing; a maturity and sincerity that brings forth a timeless air of expression. The depth and quality of the soloing and group interaction is quite remarkable. Harmonious and elegant, this music makes me feel utterly contented, rich with all the joys and pleasures that music should bring. I can feel the history, I can sense the collective spirit, I can touch the atmosphere, I can hear the classic, enduring, ageless beauty of music that means something not only to the performers but to me, the grateful, energised listener. And I really can’t ask for any more than that.

Mike Gates

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Stéphane Belmondo ‘The Same as it never was before’ CD (Verve) 4/5