Laurent Voulzy ‘Belem’ CD/DIG (Columbia/Sony) 4/5

Best known in France as a highly respected and in-demand songwriter, Laurent Voulzy came to prominence at the end of the 1970’s when as a leader he scored a pop hit with ‘Le coeur grenadine’ (1979), then followed it up four years later with ‘Bopper en larmes’ (1983), and then a decade later with ‘Caché derrière’ (1992). In between time, he has been a long-time collaborator with major singer-songwriter, Alain Souchon, and has regularly performed on guitar on Souchon’s own albums.

However, Laurent Voulzy has long been passionate about the music of Brazil and wanted to devote an entire album to the samba tradition. As early as 1977, this love of Brazilian music had been hinted at on ‘Rock Collection’ (1977) and again on ‘Recollection’ (2008). Moreover, Voulzy’s interest in music that evokes the sea and sun has been a constant and best illustrated by hit songs such as ‘belle-île-en-mer’ and ‘Le soleil donne’.

For this new album, the ninth in total as a leader, Voulzy has opted for a more somber-tinged tribute to the samba style and it has to be said that his soft and sweet sounding voice is ideally suited to the gentler pace and rhythms of Brazilian music, though the samba itself can be an uptempo and uplifting genre. Participating in the enterprise and contributing their specialist native knowledge of Brazilian music is pianist Philippe Baden-Powell who, earlier this year cut a well received debut album for London label Far Out, but here is in a largely supportive role. Some have criticised the music for being too laid back, but that is to miss the point and raison d’être of the recording. Garnering airplay has been the song, ‘Spirit of samba’, which is heard here in a fuller length version and differing from the truncated one available separately. An eighteen-minute song, ‘Quand le soleil couche’, ends the album with the sounds of a Rio beach to evoke the tropical atmosphere of the album as a whole. The ultimate mood music to calm the soul, yet just sufficiently joyful to uplift the spirit, this is a grower of an album.

Tim Stenhouse