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Muslim Jazzmen from the US

LIONEL & STÉPHANE BELMONDO –YUSEF LATEEF — INFLUENCE — 2005

This double album is probably essential for the career of Lionel Belmondo, performing here with his brother Stéphane and an ad hoc group of musicians that associates the regular musicians Lionel Belmondo uses, plus his brother and some coming along with and for Yusef Lateef, a jazzman from the USA recently deceased, whose life and career span from Tennessee where he was born to Massachusetts where he died. He represents a jazz of his own that has impacted Lionel Belmondo’s work tremendously, and yet. . .

As soon as the first notes of this recording we have a tone we had not found yet in Belmondo’s music so far in our discovery. A light, florid, rich, deep, joyous and even blissfully ecstatic music that sweats and radiates some happiness, joy and not the morbid mortiferous contemplation we found so often in Lionel Belmondo’s music. But due to the dates, is this mortiferous and morbid style a later style, a style due to something Lionel Belmondo has lost? For sure this here recording is full of light and sunny rays of pleasure.

Without entering all the tracks one after the other, I would prefer giving you some impressions rather than a scholastic manual. The presentation booklet that comes along with the CDs is good enough for that and signed by Vincent Bessières who is a journalist at Jazzman, a French magazine on the subject of jazz and jazz performance. Founded in October 1992, it was merged with Jazz Magazine in September 2009 in response to the worldwide economic downturn and the general loss of revenue among music magazines. It was advertised as “the magazine for all jazz.” Jazzman began as a free supplement in Le monde de la musique. It published its first independent number in March 1995. It is not clear whether the separation was a divorce or a way to expand the jazz publication by making it autonomous. The booklet is in both French and English. I have chosen to favor English.

Bessières says somewhere the musicians have chosen the blues as their style. I am not sure because for me the blues requires a voice, a singer, words to express the blues itself and the music is generally not jazzy and it is certainly most of the time particularly sad, suffering, crying and weeping, howling at times with despair. Here the music is at most hesitating between having a continuous melodic line or just impressionistic touches like in the second track: “Si tout ceci n’est qu’un pauvre rêve” (If all this is nothing but a pitiful dream). The title by Lili Boulanger originally here arranged by Lionel Belmondo has been made luminous in its hesitation, the search of some elevation but no doubt ever, it will come from contemplating the inside dimension of this music that is never erratic but only curiously stumbling and touching around to look for a door, an uplifting golden path in the forest of some urban maddening crowd that does not madden you at all.

Yusef Lateef

This recording owes a lot to Christophe Dal Sasso who gave two tracks on the first CD. He could be qualified as sad but it does not succeed and I will then consider that his half smile of half happiness is in fact the detachment of a contemplative man in front of this world. What could make his music sad makes it in fact restful and peaceful. We just let ourselves slip slowly into this music and we enjoy the rest we find there, the abandon and nonchalance that are seeping from the notes and the instruments. Are we lying on a deckchair or chaise lounge on some beach or gently rolling ship on an oily sea without any wind, apart from a light breeze that cannot even fill our sails? Just let’s look at the gulls, at the sun, at the dust dancing in the sunlight, let’s draw the curtains of our mental bedroom and let us recline in the velvety featherbed. Is there any regret at times not to be part of the game, part of that outside world of pure excellence and enjoyment without any exhilaration?

There might be a desire behind this music by Christophe Dal Sasso and his use of percussions to make rolling balls dance from right to left and then open some window to some plaintive but aerial and sky like azure flute that could be some Indian musician in the morning challenging the percussions, the drums, the whole of nature and summoning the deepest and most secret animal spirits of our world, those we never listen to and we always want to meet but without the courage to say, OK yes, let the wolves come dancing with me, let the frogs croak with me, let some other deer or bears come celebrate life with me. That’s when a more metallic sound and a humming voice appear, if it is a voice, and deeper, more somber sounds come up, rise, swell in the sky on a canapé of metal percussion, cymbals and their metallic sweeping, bells, we are confronted to the birth a world, of a mythology, of a future because any birth means a future that will drop on the side what is not important for that future like the shouts and yells of crowds. The piano brings in the responsibility of life and government. And a saxophone or clarinet or whatever brass instrument comes and amplifies that social forest of responsible enjoyment of what is to come and we call for. The bass can then temporize with that future. And something lurks out of the wings and inflates itself into some existence You are, new-born god, the master of this world and we are your servants, your believers, your powerful intercessors to life and we become the echo of your peace of divine mind and that makes us divine too. Oh! Friend of mine that moved away, that is trekking along some new territory, your voice is still reverberating in my mind and that voice is like a divine message telling me what to think. It is the few isolated notes of a bird’s call and song. And then it can become the recollection of the pleasure of loving you and the pleasure of still loving you though you are blazing some trails in some new forest and a trumpet tells me you are strong, manly, powerful and sure of yourself like some calamus growing in Walt Whitman’s pond in his contemplation of the masculine heart of the conquerors of wild territories. That music is an ode to joy and bliss and orgasmic climax, all contemplative in the mind of the beholder. To contemplate is to have. Just enjoy that contemplation that is your possession, that rich possession that makes you another person and yet the same. That’s how a friend and his love can transform your mind even in his absence because he is always there in your brain. Can’t you feel him squirming when you speak of him?

If you find Christophe Dal Sasso slightly liquorish and satiating, maybe too much, too hypnotic, just take a rest with Lionel Belmondo and his saxophone. No problem; you can go drunk on that heady music that titillates in you the dark humors that have to come out to become sunny and happy. He is the pleasure bringer, the hawker in the street that tries to hawkishly sell you the shiny trinkets you do not need and yet that will be so useful for you to dance all night as if you were happily in some luxurious and lustful reception in some palace imagined by Lestat de Lioncourt somewhere in Auvergne. Don’t let your fingers be taken up by these strings. Resist the envy and the desire to be nice with the hawker who is a predator like his name says and he will draw all he can out of you to let you go on your wooly legs totally empty of all your blood. You will sit on a public bench and you will admire your new acquisition of empty air.

And that’s when across the street on the second CD Yusef Lateef comes and transform our urban stroll into a rainforest chase for unknown species. Chattanooga, Tennessee, is the destination. Is it Chattanooga today or the Chattanooga of the times of slavery? Is it the past or the future? To ask the question is sure to never get an answer. Just enjoy the trip.

I guess Southern Comfort is next on that road to the south but definitely with an urban background from the north.

But it is a day to wake some vast ideal from morning to dusk. Iqbal dominates the whole suite and it brings together so many things, in 2005 and even more today. The great and mythic by now Sir Muhammad Iqbal, widely known as Allama Iqbal, was a poet, philosopher, and politician, as well as an academic, barrister and scholar in British India who is widely regarded as having inspired the Pakistan Movement. Born: November 9, 1877, Sialkot, Pakistan. Died: April 21, 1938, Lahore, Pakistan. There is in this music something that goes beyond the slowness and nonchalance of the south. There is something that enters the Muslim mind of Yusef Lateef, a Muslim mind that comes from his reference to Pakistan, an aspiration to develop, an aspiration to thrive but also a tremendous fear that behind the green canopy of the trees there may be a very aggressive and violent sky and yet let the canopy of leaves and birds in their nest lock itself up onto the shady happiness of here inside this temple and let our words open our hearts to the divine beyond this closed up cell of nature. That divine grandeur is not outside this cell; it is not outside our own minds. It is inside our minds and we have to cultivate that call, that language, our prayers, our demands, our request from God who does not have any obligation and would even consider this request as some kind of undue begging. Do we have the right to beg from God for small little advantages and presents;

We should be the ones offering and not the ones being granted any offering. And by the ones offering I feel in that music how we are supposed to let ourselves be taken and we are becoming the offering itself this music makes to the giant monsters of life. We are the offering on the altar, on the pyre assembled for the sacrifice, we are the ones open, entirely open and receptive to the blade of the knife that makes us the redeeming sacrifice music brings up to the world to salvage this humanity. This jazz is an expiating sacrifice to save the world from its evilness, its monstrosity, its hawkish carrion eating raptors that are soaring and circling high in the sky over us, their preys. But strangely enough Yusef Lateef tries to convince us there is nothing to be afraid of and we can just sit back and lie low and enjoy the orgasmic communion with nature and with the duration of things and the cosmos, of the whole universe. That music is so pacifying, so smoothly caressing that we may forget the world outside is not that nice after all. And Allama Iqbal becomes an Iqbal sports champion, or an Iqmal child overworked and exploited by some wild capitalism in underdeveloped countries like Pakistan. There are so many Iqbal in this world.

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Lionel and Stéphane Belmondo

But if we come down from this vision we come to some may fest on the village green, with pipes and some dancing elves. The world is so beautiful when we look at it with the eyes of someone who has satisfied his divine duties and has thus rebuilt his ability to just take the world the way it comes and enjoy it in pleasure and bliss along the dancing crowds. Don’t wonder who this Brother John is. He certainly is not Saint John and his Apocalypse; there is nothing apocalyptic in this music, nothing menacing, just multifarious and multi-voice hymns and canticles dedicated to the peace of mind you reach when you concentrate your mind on the divine. This music is so Muslim in all possible ways. There is no contradiction that is not reduced like a broken bone that heals all by itself with the bandage of belief, faith and submission to the truth of on-high, of beyond all the dangers that are not of life but of some other world that has to be forgotten and nullified.

There is nothing bluesy in this music, nothing sad, mortiferous and morbid. Why on earth has Lionel Belmondo later on developed his morbid and death-loving style? There probably is no answer to that question. But his productions of 2011 and 2012 are in complete contradiction with this radiating bright luminous maybe slightly unempathetic style. Happiness is at the bottom of the flowery meadow like in The Sound of Music. It is well known, provided the world is the microcosm of Switzerland untouched and unconcerned by the violence outside its borders. I must say I miss the drama and the tragedy of so much jazz that pushes its roots and branches into the compost of centuries of inhumane and barbaric history of slavery and exploitation. That’s maybe this contemplation of monstrosities from under the crystal dome of protected relaxation that is so common in Bordeaux and its region, in the Landes forest and on the lakes there that explains the coming together of two jazzmen who are so different.

The world is beautiful and life is marvelous. Let’s enjoy them both till we are drunk with an overdose of sugar and alcohol.

Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU

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Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, PhD in Germanic Linguistics (University Lille III) and ESP Teaching (University Bordeaux II) has been teaching all types of ESP

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