by Ian Mann
April 18, 2016
The musical rapport between Beraha and Turville was apparent throughout and this ranked as one of the most enjoyable vocal jazz performances that I've witnessed.
Brigitte Beraha / John Turville Duo with guest George Crowley, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 16/ 04/ 2016.
Vocalist Brigitte Beraha and pianist John Turville have both been regular presences on the Jazzmann web pages in recent years.
The singer first came to my attention with the release of her quietly adventurous solo album “Flying Dreams” on the F-ire presents label back in 2008. A member of London’s E17 Collective she is also part of the co-operative bands Babelfish and Solstice plus Riff Raff, the latter led by bassist and composer Dave Manington. Beraha’s flexible Norma Winstone inspired vocals have also appeared in a guest capacity on albums by pianists Ivo Neame and Geoff Eales, and trumpeters Andy Hague and Reuben Fowler. Beraha recently featured as part of the ensemble that performed “Alhaan Al Siduri”, trumpeter and composer Yazz Ahmed’s Fellowship Commission for the Birmingham based Jazzlines association.
The supremely versatile pianist John Turville has released two excellent trio albums on the F-ire Presents label with “Midas” appearing in 2010 and “Conception” in 2012. A musician with a comprehensive grasp of jazz and world music styles he has appeared on albums by singer/songwriter Sarah Gillespie and tango vocalist Guilermo Rozenthuler and played Fender Rhodes with Dog Soup, the Miles Davis inspired band led by trumpeter Robbie Robson. Turville has also made important contributions to small group recordings led by bassists Ben Bastin, Yuriy Galkin and Matt Ridley, saxophonists Tim Garland and Alex Merritt, guitarist Ant Law and drummer Asaf Sirkis. He has also recorded as part of a big band led by saxophonist Frank Griffith.
Beraha and Turville first performed as a duo back in 2003 at the Bell Inn in Walthamstow after previously playing together as part of a larger ensemble. They struck up an immediate musical chemistry that found expression on disc in the form of “Red Skies”, a 2012 release that is reviewed elsewhere on this site. The album was comprised mainly of jazz standards but the duo’s immaculate and adventurous interpretations breathed fresh life into even the most familiar of material. Two pieces included guest performances by the veteran tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins.
Turville is no stranger to The Hive having performed here in 2010 with his trio featuring bassist Chris Hill and drummer Ben Reynolds around the time of the release of “Midas”. It was the very first gig that I ever attended at The Hive, although I’ve returned many times since. Turville has also been back, first with bassist Matt Ridley’s quartet alongside saxophonist Jason Yarde and drummer Nick Smalley, and more recently with an all star quintet led by drummer Asaf Sirkis that also included Tassos Spiliotopoulos on guitar, Kevin Glasgow on electric bass and guest soloist Gareth Lockrane on an impressive array of flutes.
Tonight was Beraha’s first visit to Shrewsbury and the first time I’d seen her sing as a leader, her role in the Ahmed group had been largely textural and very much ensemble based. I’ve always admired her flexible and adventurous singing on record and I’m pleased to report that she didn’t disappoint.
This evening’s set was mainly standards based with the majority of it being sourced from the “Red Skies” album. Although the pairing of Beraha and Turville was initially billed as a duo the Shrewsbury audience enjoyed the bonus of a guest appearance by the highly talented and hugely versatile young saxophonist George Crowley who stepped in to play the ‘Bobby Wellins’ role – although he didn’t necessarily play on the same tunes that Wellins did on the album.
The first set began with the duo of Beraha and Turville exploring the “Red Skies” material with their interpretation of the Harry Warren song “This Heart Of Mine” with Beraha immediately demonstrating her ability for authentic jazz phrasing and the ability to scat sing convincingly. Unfortunately the Hive does not possess its own piano but Turville still impressed as he soloed on his trusty Technics P50 keyboard, the same model that he was using back in 2010!
The Rodgers and Hammerstein song “It Might As Well Be Spring” commenced with a solo wordless vocal passage from Beraha that was particularly reminiscent of the great Norma Winstone, an acknowledged influence and mentor.
The pair’s shared love of Brazilian music was reflected by the inclusion of “Beatriz”, a song most commonly associated with the great Milton Nascimento. This tale of romantic obsession was delivered by Beraha in immaculate Portuguese. Her ability to sing effectively in several different languages is impressive and is a reflection of her international background – born of British/Turkish parents and brought up in Monaco before coming to London to study music at Goldsmith’s College and then moving on to the Guildhall School of Music. She still speaks with the slightest trace of a French accent.
Beraha guested on the title track of Turville’s “Midas” album and the duo performed the piece with Beraha’s melodic wordless vocal complementing the flowing lyricism of Turville’s keyboard.
Beraha is part of the quartet Babelfish which teams her with pianist Barry Green plus the vastly experienced rhythm team of bassist Chris Laurence and drummer/percussionist Paul Clarvis. The group’s two albums, “Babelfish” (2012) and the excellent “Chasing Rainbows” (2015) are both reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. From the first of these came Beraha’s tune “Sometime”, a showcase for her remarkable capacity to use her voice as an instrument, her wordless singing recalling Winstone as well as the experimental vocalists Julie Tippetts and Maggie Nichols. There were even moments where her phrasing reminded me of Robert Wyatt.
Crowley joined the duo for a good natured version of the Jerome Kern standard “I’m Old Fashioned” which saw Beraha’s playful interpretation of the lyrics expertly enhanced by Crowley’s tenor sax fills before the instrumentalists both embarked on lengthy but well received solos.
It was left to the duo to complete the first half, starting with the Beraha original “Elephants On Wheels”, a piece inspired by Kenny Wheeler’s music on the album “Music For Large And Small Ensembles” allied to the visual imagery of Salvador Dali! Apparently Beraha had a Dali print on the wall of her room in Leyton where she immersed herself in the sounds of Wheeler’s album. Perhaps not surprisingly the melancholy wistfulness of the song features Beraha’s voice at its most Winstone like, with the lyric referencing the “red skies” of the album title.
A hugely enjoyable first set concluded with a playful interpretation of the standard “On The Street Where You Live” which included some audacious scat vocalising from Beraha and some virtuoso piano soloing from Turville. The pianist is a highly rhythmic player and his highly accomplished work with his left hand was a constant source of delight and fascination throughout the evening.
Set two commenced with the trio as Beraha tackled the tongue twisting lyrics of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave”. This also proved to be the vehicle for some spirited voice and saxophone exchanges plus solos from Crowley on tenor and Turville on piano augmented by a scat vocal feature from Beraha.
Crowley stuck around for the ballad “My One And Only Love” which was introduced by a passage of solo piano prior to Beraha’s emotive reading of the lyric. The instrumental solos came from Turville on piano and Crowley on tenor. It was at this point that I reflected that this was the fourth time I’d seen Crowley perform in the last six months, all of them substantially different. At the 2015 London Jazz Festival I saw him playing electro-improvised ‘punk jazz’ as part of the trio Wolf Off alongside Rory Simmons (trumpet, electronics) and Dave De Rose (drums). In January he ‘depped’ superbly for the American saxophonist Chris Cheek at Dempsey’s in Cardiff as part of guitarist Hannes Riepler’s group. More recently he was part of percussionist Bex Burch’s Afro-jazz outfit Vula Viel when they performed at the Hare & Hounds in Birmingham. All these shows were covered on the Jazzmann site and encapsulate this young musician’s skill and versatility.
Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love” saw the trio continuing to impress with Beraha’s rendition of the lyric followed by instrumental solos by Crowley and Turville.
It was the core duo that performed “Dindi”, a second Jobim song, that again showcased Beraha’s lyric and scatting abilities. In the absence of Crowley it was left to Turville to take the instrumental honours, which seemed slightly strange given that on the album this is one of only two pieces that Bobby Wellins actually plays on.
The first Gershwin tune of the evening was “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” with Beraha’s playful scatting augmenting her rendition of the lyric.
Beraha is a member of the sextet Solstice, a group that also includes Turville on piano plus Dave Manington (bass), Tori Freestone (reeds), Jez Franks (guitar) and George Hart (drums). The band’s food themed album “Alimentation” is due for release shortly and from that album came Beraha’s haunting original song “Unspoken” with its “cycle of life” refrain.
Crowley rejoined the band for the final number, “Les Fuilles Mortes”, more familiarly known as “Autumn Leaves”, and sung here by Beraha in flawless French with closing solos from all three musicians, Crowley going first, urged on by the affirmations of his colleagues. Beraha followed him with a scat vocal feature before Turville signed off for the evening with a typically imaginative excursion on the keyboard.
There was to be no encore but nobody felt short changed by a lengthy performance that had covered many jazz bases and which had included the very welcome bonus of Crowley augmenting the core duo. This was music that was emotionally involving as well as being highly technically accomplished and which was presented with considerable wit and charm by Beraha and Turville while young Mr. Crowley won himself a lot of new admirers along the way too. It wasn’t the biggest crowd ever seen at The Hive but numbers were pleasingly substantial and the audience members were highly appreciative of the efforts of all three performers.
The musical rapport between Beraha and Turville was apparent throughout and this ranked as one of the most enjoyable vocal jazz performances that I’ve witnessed. Beraha is definitely one of the most accomplished and imaginative singers on the UK jazz scene while Turville and Crowley rank among the leading instrumentalists.
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