Stephane Belmondo : The Same As It Never Was Before
It's been a long time since we heard Stephane Belmondo play like this. It might even be the first time. Of course, there was the wonderful Wonderland in 2004, his first album as a leader, but that tribute to Stevie Wonder, one of his many idols, showed only one side of the trumpeter's talent. There have been rumours that Stephane Belmondo is something of a monolith among musicians; on the contrary, he is no such thing. His connections are multiple, his inspiration varied, and his references go far beyond the boundaries between genres, all to the advantage of a single, generous notion: Music. So, The Same As It Never Was Before marks a turning-point: it allows us to hear Stephane Belmondo the way he sees himself today, after several decades of adventures in music that have documented his involvement in a considerable number of projects in a very wide range of styles.
It's true to say that very few musicians enjoy a status similar to that of Stephane Belmondo on the contemporary jazz scene. To French minds, his name remains inseparable from the musical experiments he conducted together with his brother Lionel, the saxophonist and arranger with whom he not only led the Belmondo Quintet, a group that highlighted the Nineties, but also crossed paths with such varied personalities as Dee Dee Bridgewater, Horace Silver, Laurent Cugny, Michel Legrand, DJ Fred Galliano and, more recently, Yusef Lateef and Milton Nascimento. But in parallel, Stephane Belmondo - he was born in 1967 - has led a jazz life of his own: in Parisian clubs, where he's been a familiar figure since the end of the Eighties; in festivals, where he's appeared with some of the greatest (all of them appreciative of his cultivated elegance); in New York, where he lived for several years; and onstage, sometimes in surprising formats, such as his long-lived duo with guitarist Sylvain Luc.
None of this is ancient history, because all those encounters are still extremely present in his memory. A fairer thing to say would be that, with The Same As It Never Was Before, another history is beginning. It's the story of a man who, while remaining faithful to his loves, has the ambition to show what he feels now. And so the paradoxically-sounding title of his new album is in fact an aesthetic leitmotiv, not a simple pose. Everyone who has ever come close to Stephane Belmondo knows that he's no poser. It's enough for him to put his lips to a trumpet or bugle, and the music speaks for itself. The music flows naturally, with a rigour that avoids all facility; his breathing gives the music poetry and that je-ne-sais-quoi which belongs only to the greatest: a sound you can recognize a mile away, a sensitivity that caresses the surface of his horn, inflexions in his phrasing that reflect the intimacy of his soul... in short, a breath, like the one they say blows through all great works. This musician tells the truth.