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Born in 1965 in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, Pierre de Bethmann began classical piano lessons at age 6, only later discovering the world of jazz. He continued his musical and regular studies apace and actually worked as a management consultant beginning in 1990. In 1994 he formed the musical group Prysm with Christophe Wallemme and Benjamin Henocq, and one year later he abandoned the desk to become a fulltime professional musician. Since 1997, Prysm has performed over fifty concerts a year, including tours of the U.S., Japan and the Middle East, and has recorded four albums on the Blue Note label.
Bethmann founded the group Ilium in 2001, a quintet based on the sound of the Fender Rhodes piano surrounded, except for guitar, by acoustic instruments. He is joined by 30-year-old saxophonist David El Malek, a quartet leader in his own right; Michael Felberbaum, an American guitarist based in Paris since 1991; Clovis Nicolas, a 28-year-old bassist who has played in the Belmondo Quintet and the Baptiste Trotignon Trio; and Franck Agulhon, who has performed regularly with Bireli Lagrène, Stefano di Battista, and others. This is the group’s debut recording.
The CD is a classy album of tight, precise, funky harmonic fusion, the kind of music that one envisioned might have grown out of the classic sessions of Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, and Joe Zawinul. It shows what can happen when solid musicians play an original repertoire that is written specifically for the group and constantly reworked over a period of two years. In his hands, Bethmann’s electric piano does not sound dated; its output is as fresh, current and crusty as a baguette. El Malek is creative, inventive, and imaginative; his ideas flow in a nearly uninterrupted stream. Interplay between the instruments is as smooth as brie.
So once again we have to hand it to the French. They certainly do have a way with our American art form...