by Ian Mann
January 03, 2022
A highly creative piece of work that blends words, electronics and the human voice to create music that is both stimulating and rewarding.
“By The Cobbled Path”
(Let Me Out Records LMOCD002)
Brigitte Beraha – voice, electronics, piano
Vocalist, lyricist and songwriter Brigitte Beraha first came to my attention with the release of her second solo album “Flying Dreams” back in 2008. This was an album of quietly lyrical, but subtly adventurous, original material. Her début, the standards based “Prelude to a Kiss” had first appeared in 2005.
Born in Milan to British/Turkish parents Beraha was subsequently brought up in Monaco. She moved to London in 1996 to study music at Goldsmiths College before moving on to the Guildhall School of Music and eventually settling in the English capital. Her international upbringing has contributed to an ability to sing convincingly in a variety of different languages.
Strongly influenced by the great Norma Winstone Beraha has blossomed into one of the UK’s most adventurous and accomplished vocalists who has performed as a very welcome guest on recordings by pianists Ivo Neame, Rick Simpson and Geoff Eales, trumpeters Andre Canniere, Andy Hague and Reuben Fowler, saxophonists Ed Jones and Kevin Figes and flautist Eddie Parker among others. She is a key member of the co-operative ensembles Babelfish and Solstice and also of Riff Raff, the sextet led by bassist and composer Dave Manington. She has also worked with the trumpeter and composer Yazz Ahmed.
A particularly prolific collaboration has been with the pianist and composer John Turville, the pair releasing the duo album “Red Skies” in 2013 and also touring extensively. “Red Skies” also included a guest appearance on tenor sax by the late, great Bobby Wellins while the duo’s live performances have sometimes featured contributions from a much younger saxophonist, the hugely versatile George Crowley.
Beraha has also been part of another voice / piano duo, this time with Frank Harrison, the pair releasing the album “The Way Home” in 2018.
2018 was a particularly productive year for Beraha and also saw her guesting on “Criss Cross”, a duo album from pianist Alcyona Mick and saxophonist Tori Freestone. She also appeared at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of the all female ensemble Interchange, founded and co-ordinated by saxophonist, composer and educator Issie Barratt.
Beraha has been an important member of the Loop and E17 musicians’ collectives and is generally a busy and creative presence on the UK jazz scene. As well as being an enterprising and versatile vocalist she is also an accomplished song writer and lyricist who has had a considerable creative input to the recordings with which she has been involved, often adding her lyrics to the music of others.
Another project with which Beraha has been involved is the all female folk-jazz trio Orenda, featuring saxophonist Josephine Davies and pianist Alcyona Mick.
A musician capable of working across a variety of musical genres she was part of a project that interpreted the music of drummer and composer Basil Kirchin as part of Hull City of Culture in 2017. The following year she was involved with the “Raising Hell with Henry Purcell” performance at Kings Place, London, a project co-ordinated by former Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson.
Beraha’s third solo album was 2020’s excellent “Lucid Dreamers”, the first release on her own Let Me Out record label. This was a live recording documented at the London venue Iklectik in January 2020 and featuring a quartet including saxophonist George Crowley, drummer Tim Giles and pianist Alcyona Mick.
This was Beraha’s most adventurous release to date and featured a mix of acoustic and electric sounds with Beraha, Crowley and Giles all credited with ‘electronics’. In my review of the recording I postulated that it might be one of the last live albums to be documented before the Covid lockdown. My thoughts on this highly recommended release (from which the biographical details above have been extracted) can be read in full here;
If “Lucid Dreamers” was the last pre-pandemic live recording then “By The Cobbled Path” represents Beraha’s real lockdown album. A truly solo project the music was recorded between November 2020 and July 2021 (remember ‘Freedom Day’) at Beraha’s home in London.
“I wanted to capture most of the seasons, their different sounds and moods”, explains Beraha.
Her album notes contain a brief description of the recording process;
“These recordings, made at home and in surrounding nature, also captured sounds of the external environment at the time. This provided a vehicle for various conversations and improvisations, a testament to the amazing music present in everyday life, if one has time to stop and listen”.
And, of course, in lockdown we all did.
The album continues Beraha’s experiments with electronics that began on “Lucid Dreamers”. Her recordings were subsequently passed to guitarist/electronic musician/producer Chris Sharkey for post-production, mixing and mastering, although Beraha herself takes the overall credit of ‘producer’.
The album commences with “Come On In”, a seven minute ambient excursion featuring the diaphanous sounds of looped and layered electronics and Beraha’s largely wordless vocalisations. It’s a warm, immersive, beguiling dreamscape, occasionally punctuated by the percussive ticks of found sounds, among them the creaking of a door, which ties in neatly with the title and also leads us directly to the next track.
“Doors” begins with unadorned sound of Beraha’s speaking voice as she declares; “I love doors, Everything about them… Well, almost everything”. Beraha describes her lyrics to the album as ‘poems’, which is possibly how this piece started out. In the hands of Beraha and Sharkey it becomes a stunning vocal set piece featuring the sounds of Beraha’s voice exclusively. Skilfully deploying the techniques of the recording process her recitation of the poem is augmented by vocal tics and moans, layered choral effects and electronically manipulated vocal techniques. Although at times unsettling it is an emotive and innately musical performance. Beraha’s words mix childlike wonder with eternal truths - “time watches them crack little by little, whilst behind them humans live and die”. The lyric also contains the line “by the cobbled path”, which gives the album its title.
The centre piece of the album is the eleven minute plus “Moonstruck” which sees Beraha looping and layering wordless vocals to create a powerful rhythmic pulse that suggests the influence of both minimalism and modern electronic dance music – Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” represents an obvious reference point. As the music becomes more ambient the lyrics are skilfully woven in to the fabric of the other vocally generated sounds, telling the story of the imagined horrors of a sleepless night and the eventual salvation brought by the break of dawn the following day. This is Beraha at her most dystopian and disturbing, but her performance is no less compelling for all that.
“I Think Our Neighbours Might Be Aliens” explores similar territory and mixes Beraha’s vocals with samples and found sounds. It’s intentionally sci-fi ambience has evoked comparisons with the “Bladerunner” soundtrack.
“Too Far To Hear My Singing” conjures up a chilly winter landscape in the time of the second Covid lockdown, evoking a sense of alienation and isolation. Beraha adds some piano to this piece, in addition to the now familiar layered vocals and electronics.
“On My Bike” features found sounds and was very possibly initially recorded when the singer was out and about on her velocipede. Bicycle sounds, traffic noises and other human voices are heard in addition to Beraha’s simple wordless vocals, which are ultimately layered to create a church like choral effect. Her speaking voice is also incorporated into the piece; as lockdown eases she can be heard asking human beings “Are you O.K.?”, a welcome sign of warmth and humanity after the bleak midwinter of lockdown and isolation.
I wrote earlier of Beraha’s ability to sing convincingly in a variety of different languages. The closing piece here is “Strange World”, subtitled “Sur Mon Velo”, which features a lyric written and delivered in French, which I’m not even going to try to decipher. That said doesn’t “Sur Mon Velo” mean “On My Bike”, thus giving a thematic link to the previous track. Beraha speaks rather than sings the words, her recitation framed by the sounds of birdsong, layered vocals and electronica.
Building on the success of “Lucid Dreamers” and its experiments with electronics “By The Cobbled Path” represents Beraha’s most ambitious recording to date. It sees her throwing off the Norma Winstone influences and boldly venturing into the kind of areas inhabited by vocal experimenters such as Leila Martial and Andreas Schaerer.
Recorded during the constraints of lockdown it’s also a highly personal album and this fact, combined with the record’s experimental tendencies, may limit its appeal to some of Beraha’s regular fan base.
That said I’d like to think that Beraha’s admirers will continue to accompany her on her musical journey – she is a musical explorer after all. “By The Cobbled Path” is a highly creative piece of work that blends words, electronics and the human voice to create music that is both stimulating and rewarding. Sharkey deserves credit for his role in this process, but ultimately the triumph is Beraha’s.
Following the artistic success of this largely solo project it will be interesting to see what Beraha does next. As a serial collaborator she has done much superb work with other musicians and it will be intriguing to see if she brings any of these techniques to the projects of others.
It’s almost certain that she’ll bring this new knowledge to the Lucid Dreamers quartet, surely the springboard for this solo project. I’ll be especially keen to see how this particular ensemble develops in the future.
From Brigitte Beraha via Facebook;
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Thanks so much to Ian Mann for his review of my solo album ‘By the Cobbled Path’. It’s always amazing to see how in depth he listens.
At the end of the review, The Jazz Mann rightly connects this work with that of my ensemble ‘Lucid Dreamers’ and expresses an interest in the band’s future development. Very happy to say that a new album and tour are imminent… and 1st gig of 2022 for us (hopefully) in Cambridge on 4th Feb, so please start spreading the neeewwwws… more on that very soon!