|Lionel, Yvan and Stéphane Belmondo|
(Duc des Lombards, Paris. 9th December 2013. Second house. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
It’s fascinating to watch a jazz family like the Belmondos going about its business, both as a self-contained unit and as part of the wider community of musicians.
In many ways jazz families are just like other families. They can seem to have their their own imperceptible ways of communicating, of moving along invisible tramlines, skirting past each other. At other times they appear so close, it as if they are isolated from the outside world in their own glass dome. I mused as to whether that sense of distance might be because they come from deep in the Var, in the South of France, and perhaps a cocktail-quaffing Paris audience might feel like an alien tribe to them. Who knows the reasons, but in the first half-hour of their set there was very little acknowledgment of the presence of an appreciative audience which was enthusiastically applauding every number and every solo.
Three Belmondo family members at the Duc des Lombards last night were launching the album Mediterranean Sound. The two brothers trumpeter/flugelhornist Stéphane Belmondo and tenor saxophonist Lionel have made the album as a token of gratitude to their baritone saxophonist father Yvan, a gentle, thoughtful player with a tone reminiscent of Gerry Mulligan. The repertoire is standards such as Tangerine, East of the Sun, Skylark, plus a curious arrangement of the Massenet Méditation from Thaïs.
The best-known of the three is the trumpeter and flugelhorn player Stéphane. His discography is vast, and what had drawn me to the gig was an excellent album with Billy Hart and Kirk Lightsey, The Same as it Never Was Before– reviewed here. Stéphane Belmondo is an authoritative soloist with powerful presence, and tends to inhabit the centre of the stage.
At his sides are his brother Lionel, a tenor saxophonist who plays with urgency, intensity and fluency, who a couple of times turned his back on the audience to develop a dialogue with Jean-Pierre Arnaud at the drums. Guitarist Jean-Philippe Sempere was a model of calm unruffled ego-less playing. Bassist Sylvain Romano was also hugely impressive, both as rhythm player and as soloist, pitch-perfect and sonorous. The endings of his solos, however, were submerged as the three Belmondos re-formed in front of him for their closing outro or head, making him invisible just at the moment when his fabulous playing deserved acknowledgement.
This jazz family seemed at its best, at its most inspiring when it was opening its doors to the outside world, welcoming others on-stage. If the beginning of the set portrayed the family as a self-sufficient unit, the final number left a strong and different message behind: Yvan Belmondo’s legacy is not just the fact that he has raised two sons to be fine musicians who are central figures on the French jazz scene, he has done more. Through his teaching, he has communicated the power and the joy of this music to outsiders. It is very similar to the role, say, which Ellis Marsalis had in bringing on musicians like Harry Connick Jr. Thus my highlight of the evening was when the family welcomed on-stage a former Yvan Belmondo pupil, alto saxophonist Jean-Philippe Scali. He roared through several choruses of Sonny Stitt’s BW Blues with high-voltage conviction. Fabulous.
Other guests were the Canadian-born saxophonist François Théberge, who gamely picked up Lionel Belmondo’s tenor, and blew extremely convincingly. Another guest was one of the classiest of pianists in France, Belgian-born Éric Legnini, who is always simply a joy to hear.
A word about the Duc des Lombards. It is a tiny place with an intimate vibe. You get very close to the music.But I have to thank two people for the same very good advice given to me before I went: there are very few places with good visibility, so it is worth getting there early and queuing – take a scarf, it gets cold on that pavement, I was told. I took that advice and was very happy I did.
There is a very very talented young guitarist Joey Belmondo as well, who lives in Sweden. Son of Stéphane and French jazz vocalist Elisabeth Kontomanou.