by Ian Mann
April 17, 2013
Turville's ability to match Beraha's mood from song to song is apparent throughout the album. "Red Skies" is a true duo performance.
Brigitte Beraha and John Turville
(E17 Jazz E17JCD001)
Pianist John Turville and singer Brigitte Beraha are familiar figures on the Jazzmann webpages.
The versatile Turville leads his own contemporary jazz piano trio and has released two excellent albums on the F-ire presents label, Midas (2010) and “Conception (2012), both made in the company of bassist Chris Hill and drummer Ben Reynolds. Turville has also appeared on albums by artists as diverse as Sarah Gillespie, Dog Soup, the Ben Bastin Trio, the Yuri Galkin Nonet, The Frank Griffith Big Band and Argentinian tango singer Guillermo Rozenthuler. Something of a tango expert he has also worked with Transtango and the London Tango Orchestra. Turville is also a key member of the Walthamstow based E17 Jazz Collective and is the founder, director and chief composer for the Collective’s Large Ensemble. “Red Skies” marks the first release on the Collective’s fledgling record label.
Brigitte Beraha first came to my attention in 2008 with the release of her impressive solo album “Flying Dreams”
(F-ire Presents), an interesting collection of original songs that revealed her to be one of the most adventurous young jazz vocalists around. Beraha’s ability to use her “voice as an instrument” in the style of the great Norma Winstone has also ensured regular work as a guest with other projects and she has appeared on recordings by Turville (“Midas”), pianist Ivo Neame and Bristol based trumpeter Andy Hague. She is also a key member of the group Babelfish alongside pianist Barry Green, veteran bassist Chris Laurence and experienced drummer/percussionist Paul Clarvis. The group’s eponymous album which mixed jazz and classical structures with poetic lyrics was released on Green’s Moletone label in 2012 to considerable critical acclaim. She is concurrently a member of bassist and composer Dave Manington’s sextet Riff Raff and appears on the band’s recent album “Hullabaloo” (Loop Records).
Despite acquiring reputations for their adventurous approach to new material Turville and Beraha both have strong roots in the jazz tradition and for this intimate duo album the pair have turned to the standards song book for an appealing collection that also includes a smattering of Brazilian tunes from Antonio Carlos Jobim and Chico Buarque and interpretations of contemporary material from writers such as Paul Simon. The album also includes one Beraha original, the intriguingly titled “Elephants On Wheels”. The album is bookended by two guest appearances by the veteran tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins, a masterful ballad player. It represents a considerable coup for the young duo to have secured the services of Wellins and his burnished tones add much to the album. Wellins has also appeared with the duo on selected live appearances too.
“Red Skies” was recorded in a single day at the Artesuono Studio in Italy, in recent years the home of many a classic ECM session, so it comes as no surprise that the sound is excellent throughout with both voice and piano being heard to their best advantage. Opener “Dindi”, by Jobim, also features the tender but authoritative playing of Wellins who delivers an excellent solo mid tune. Elsewhere Beraha’s flexible voice dovetails beautifully with Turville’s understated piano whether she’s delivering the lyric or singing wordlessly.
There’s a real warmth and yearning about the singing on the standard “My One And Only Love” with Turville’s wonderfully sensitive accompaniment containing some of his most lyrical playing of the set.
Born in Milan to British/Turkish parents Beraha was subsequently brought up in Monaco before moving to London to study music in 1996. Her upbringing has ensured that she has the capacity to sing convincingly in French, an ability that is well demonstrated here on the song “Les Feuilles Mortes” by Joseph Kosma and Jacques Prevert. It’s a tune more familiar to English speaking jazz listeners as “Autumn Leaves”, here Beraha and Turville successfully reclaim the original in a version that includes extended passages for wordless voice and solo piano.
Chico Buarque’s “Beatriz” offers a further opportunity to enjoy Beraha’s way with a non English lyric on a convincingly emotional interpretation of the Portugese words.
It’s back to English for the duo’s version of the much covered Harry Warren/Arthur Freed song “This Heart Of Mine”. This is a fine jazz interpretation with Beraha’s flexible phrasing and engaging scatting matched by Turville’s superb piano work which combines right hand fluency with left hand rhythmic inventiveness.
Beraha is a gifted if not particularly prolific songwriter. As a lyricist she has much in common with her role model Norma Winstone. Despite the joky title “Elephants On Wheels” is a beautiful, emotionally involving song whose lyrics reference the “red skies” of the album title.
A playful version of Jobim’s “Desafinado” represents another excursion into the world of Brazilian music with the duo taking some audacious rhythmic risks with the material including a brief closing salvo of vocal percussion. Elsewhere Beraha’s elastic phrasing is highly impressive as the duo have fun turning this much covered piece into a challenging (but fun) technical exercise.
“It Might As Well Be Spring” is taken at a slower pace than usual which turns it into a moving and affecting ballad. In its own quiet way it’s as daring as “Desafinado” with Beraha stretching the phrases and Turville leaving unexpected gaps and spaces. The duo exhibit a clear love of their source material but clearly aren’t afraid to put their own stamp on these often very familiar tunes.
Beraha displays real vulnerability on Paul Simon’s “Night Game” bringing a convincing brittleness to lines like “the stars were white as bones” and “upon the winter frost”. Turville’s spare, tasteful accompaniment reflects the mood perfectly. Ostensibly a song about baseball but laced with metaphor the song seems to me like an American equivalent of Roy Harper’s much loved “When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease”.
Alec Wilder’s “Moon And Sand” was famously covered by Chet Baker. In this version Beraha brings an appealing wistfulness to the song, a feeling that Turville sustains throughout his piano solo. Turville’s ability to match Beraha’s mood from song to song is apparent throughout the album. “Red Skies” is a true duo performance with no unnecessary grandstanding from either the singer or the instrumentalist as egos are checked in at the door. That’s not to say that the pair duck the technical challenges - this is no bland run through of a set of much loved jazz standards - and the duo put plenty of flesh, but crucially no flab, on the bones of their chosen material.
The version of George Gershwin’s “They can’t Take That Away From Me” sums up the duo’s virtues, true to the spirit of the original but imbued with a subtle sense of adventurousness in a typically imaginative arrangement.
Wellins returns for the closing “A Time For Love”, his tenor adding an extra glow to Beraha’s already warm interpretation of Johnny Mandel’s lyrics.
I wrote recently of my preference for hearing new music rather than the sometimes tedious repetitions of standards. As a general statement that still holds true but too many performances of this quality may cause me to have to think again.
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