‘Alimentation’ – Solstice

alimentation

WHAT A FEAST that Solstice spreads before us! A debut release, yet anything but an unknown line-up, this British sextet’s shared culinary enthusiasm is translated into an exploration of their combined compositional and instrumental possibilities – hence various ‘foody’ references. The musical outcome? Well, certainly luscious, zesty, cordial… and wonderfully satisfying.

A glance at the personnel is temptation enough – Tori Freestone (saxes, flute), Brigitte Beraha (voice), John Turville (piano), Jez Franks (guitars), Dave Manington (double bass) and George Hart (drums) – with each bringing original compositions to the table to prompt affable, fluvial conversations. The closeness of the collaboration was evident when the band presented this material at the 2016 Manchester Jazz Festival, and is discernible in this fine studio recording.

Brigitte Beraha is establishing herself as one the UK’s most dextrous jazz vocalists, including notable appearances on albums by Babelfish and Geoff Eales; and any comparison with Norma Winstone would seem quite appropriate. Across these nine tracks, her lyrical or wordless contribution is integral to the overall blend, and there’s a special affinity with Tori Freestone’s ever-tumbling wellspring of saxophonic invention. Space and balance are key. Even in the brisker numbers, there’s never a sense of oversaturation, thanks to consummate performances from Turville, Franks, Manington and Hart.

Ultimate Big Cheese‘s apparent, airy glee is enhanced by Tori Freestone’s delightfully feel-good flute; melodic Mourning Porridge, with a unison voice-and-guitar pairing redolent of Pat Metheny, finds Freestone’s characteristic tenor waltzing around feathery percussion and Dave Manington’s authoritative bass resonances; and Jez Franks’ acoustic timbres in his own composition, Tilt, provide a folksily-threaded backdrop to Beraha’s scat. Björk’s original The Anchor Song is a pearl of almost naive charm – but this band’s interpretation, in an arrangement by Dave Manington, is achingly beautiful, the affecting simplicity of voice and piano preceding a magical, bubbling otherworldliness, with a particularly vivid pictorialisation of diving to the bottom of the ocean.

Avocado Deficit (Freestone’s title inspired by her surprise that a friend hadn’t eaten the fruit for twenty years!) ascends, Escher-like, as the tenorist’s seamless phrasing emphasises its endless, hypnotic path. Beraha’s poetic delivery is central to Her Words, Like Butterflies, adorned by John Turville’s piano elegance; there’s an adroit sax-and-voice connection in Tori Freestone’s buoyant Universal Four (from her trio album In the Chop House); and George Hart’s turbulent, darkly-hued Solstice encourages dramatically screeching voice and sax. Arranged afresh for this ensemble, Beraha’s bright Unspoken closes the set with affirming repeated chorus (“It’s the cycle of life”).

Released on 9 December 2016, and available as CD or digital download from Two Rivers Records at BandcampAlimentation is a joy from beginning to end. To quote B Guðmundsdóttir – right now, “this is where I’m staying, this is my home.”

 

Tori Freestone tenor sax, soprano saxophone, flute
Brigitte Beraha voice
John Turville piano
Jez Franks guitars
Dave Manington double bass
George Hart drums

solstice-music.co.uk

Two Rivers Records – TRR-020 (2016)

‘Chasing Rainbows’ – Babelfish

Babelfish

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

brigitteberaha.com
moletone.com

Moletone Records – Moletone 006 (2015)