IN SO MANY WAYS, this feels like one of the most consummate and unswervingly original releases of the year to date.
Singer/songwriter Brigitte Beraha is distinct in jazz spheres for her venturous, artisan approach to music making, much in the same way as, say, Dame Cleo Laine and Annie Ross were in their heyday. For this second Babelfish quartet release, she again teams up with long-standing colleague Barry Green (piano), plus Chris Laurence (double bass) and Paul Clarvis (percussion), to offer an exquisite, acoustic collection of no less than sixteen numbers which explore “love in many different forms.”
Beraha and Green share writing credits on pieces which, along with a scattering of sensitive reinterpretations, glisten with clarity and emotion (whether lovelorn or in downright japery), all delivered with delightful unpredictability. And whilst the characteristic diversity of Brigitte Beraha’s vocalisations mostly take centre stage here, it’s the indubitable, intelligent connection between all four artists which creates this album’s magic.
Take, for example, Beraha’s opening composition, You, Me & The Rest of the World, which ripples with all the composure and stature of a Real Book classic, the lyric-inspired vocal phrases buoyed by deft bass and percussion and Barry Green’s high piano embellishment (certainly one of jazz’s most engagingly limpid pianists). The soft Brazilian sway of Caetano Veloso’s Michelangelo Antonioni is captured so rapturously, escalating into an impressive scat-like middle section from Beraha; and Your Turn To Ask parades Monkishly to Green’s piano before Beraha superbly embodies the level of exploratory dynamic range and creativity attributed to Dame Cleo.
A wondrously quirky thread of ‘confusion’ runs through the album, taking the form of four miniatures in which each musician improvises individually on the same mere fragment of a phrase before concluding in a final, quartet coming-together. All are fascinating in their own way, though arguably the most entertaining (perhaps even alarming on a first listen!) is Brigitte’s Confusion, Beraha’s faux frustrated laryngeal efforts eventually becoming clear; and even Paul Clarvis’s 24-second rhythmical snare interpretation is a treat.
The most surprising credit here is Aaron Copland’s… but, the lofty and intense beauty of this piano/vocal arrangement of Heart, We Will Forget Him (from Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson) genuinely shadows the more familiar classical soprano reading; and somehow it segues naturally into a breezy rendition of I’m Always Chasing Rainbows (that strange mix of Chopin, Vaudeville and Judy Garland!). Following is an attractive, bass-bubbling arrangement of traditional song Down by the Salley Gardens, its introductory combination of piano ostinati and percussion curiously resembling the timbres of a hang drum, as Beraha delivers folk-song purity and soaring improvisation.
A dramatic Edith Piaf-like preamble to Nuit Blanche evolves into a delicate display of Beraha’s voice as instrument, her wordless extemporisations seemingly effortless; and the weighty piano-and-voice simplicity of A Story Ends (another of the singer’s originals) is reminiscent of Norma Winstone’s fine work with Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier. Barry Green’s compositions Knocked Knees and Stubble Rash are rather endearing – melodically bright, with harmonic and rhythmic twists, the four ‘voices’ match so well. And, before that impudent, closing Confusion, Beraha’s own Unspoken only confirms her bejewelled magnificence in “the cycle of life” of contemporary jazz vocalists.
Released on 27 April 2015, Chasing Rainbows is easily a five-star album, and not to be missed. Available from Amazon and all good jazz retailers.
Brigitte Beraha voice
Barry Green piano
Chris Laurence double bass
Paul Clarvis percussion
Moletone Records – Moletone 006 (2015)