by Ian Mann
July 22, 2020
With its stretching of song forms and experiments with electronics “Lucid Dreamers” is Beraha’s most adventurous and personal album to date. She receives superb support from an empathic quartet.
(Let Me Out Records LMO CD001)
Brigitte Beraha – voice, electronics, singing bowl, George Crowley – tenor sax, clarinet, electronics
Alcyona Mick – piano, Tim Giles – drums, percussion, electronics
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 and Geoff Eales, trumpeters Andre Canniere, Andy Hague and Reuben Fowler and saxophonist Ed Jones 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.
The group that Beraha brings to her latest recording as a leader features some familiar faces, musicians she has worked with extensively in recent years with her trio featuring Crowley and Riff Raff drummer Tim Giles expanded to a quartet with the addition of Alcyona Mick on piano.
Lucid Dreamers appears to be a band name as well as an album title and was first brought together as a trio for a performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival. The success of that inaugural performance saw the group expanded to a quartet and the music on the “Lucid Dreamers” album was documented at a live performance on 15th January 2020 at the Iklectik venue in Waterloo, London.
This is only Beraha’s third release as a leader but it’s arguably her most adventurous recording to date. The music includes both acoustic and electric elements with Beraha, Crowley and Giles all credited with “electronics”. The programme features four lengthy pieces, all composed by Beraha with the exception of an arrangement of “Meaning of the Blues”, which itself forms part of a longer segue.
The overall theme of Beraha’s compositions is “the distancing between humanity and nature”, a subject that has taken on an even greater significance in the light of recent events and the Covid-19 pandemic. It could be that this is one of the last live albums to be recorded before lockdown.
Of the decision to document the quartet’s music as a live recording Beraha explains;
“We didn’t want a flawless studio set up for this album, but rather to capture the essence of live performance with both its fragility and imperfections and its unrepeatable moments of magic and elation. This, to me, represents the feeling behind the music; like life it is real, spontaneous and unexpected and portrays a whole range of experiences and aspirations”.
The intimate atmosphere of the Iklectik venue (always a favourite of mine when I visit London) suits the quartet and their subtly creative music well. The album commences with a remarkable segue of “Meaning of the Blues”, written by Bobby Troup and Leah Worth, with Beraha’s own “Orderly Ruin”. The performance begins with the soft moan of Beraha’s voice, the singer later live looping her vocals as part of an eerie electronic soundscape that also incorporates the treated sound of air filtering through Crowley’s sax and the gentle beats, pulses and glitches of electronic percussion. The music builds slowly and organically, gradually accruing layers of electro-acoustic sound with the looped and layered vocals creating a semi-choral effect and combining with the now more conventional and recognisable sounds of Crowley’s tenor sax. Beraha then begins to intone the lyrics, her yearning, semi spoken vocals imparting the words with the power of an oracle. This is “Meaning of the Blues” as you’ve never heard it before.
Following the singing of the lyric the music becomes more powerful and intense with Giles picking up what sounds like a combination of sticks and mallets as the sound of Crowley’s sax becomes harsher. The bark of his tenor and the polyrhythmic rumble of Giles’ drums forms the march-like backdrop for Beraha’s declamatory vocal as she sings her own lyrics on “Orderly Ruin”. Mick’s acoustic piano is eventually added, but is heard to best effect in the closing stages of the piece as the energy gradually dissipates and her twinkling embellishments can be truly appreciated.
Next we hear the companion piece “Disorderly Ruin”, introduced by the duo of Beraha’s voice and Crowley’s tenor, the saxophonist sympathetically shadowing the singer’s lyrical and philosophical musings, subsequently joined by softly brushed drum accompaniment. In this pared down, totally acoustic, setting the extraordinary flexibility of Beraha’s vocal phrasing can be best appreciated, a quality that is further enhanced with the addition of Mick on acoustic piano. In addition to her intelligence as a lyricist Beraha is also a remarkable exponent of the ‘voice’ as instrument, a quality amply demonstrated during the next phase of this piece as the quartet collectively stretch the very fabric of the song. A more structured final section acts as a kind of reprise of the intro, with Crowley’s sax continuing to play an important role and with a soupçon of discrete electronica added.
The seven minute “Pandora’s Box” was actually issued as a single and again opens with the combination of vocals, wordless this time, and tenor. The Beraha / Crowley duo is subsequently joined by Giles, who adds finely detailed percussive and electronic shadings. The sound of Mick’s piano is added as the piece continues to unfold, with Beraha’s soaring wordless vocals leading the way. The singer dovetails with Crowley’s sax in highly effective fashion as the music gathers solidity and momentum. An unlikely single, but a dazzling example of the use of the voice as an instrument.
The album concludes with the eleven minute title track, which commences with the eerie sound of Beraha playing the singing bowl, subsequently accompanied by Mick on acoustic piano. The album title / band name seems to be particularly appropriate here as there is a distinctly dream like quality to the music, which feels almost ambient as it drifts by in a musical cloud featuring arpeggiated piano, gently piping saxophone and the rustle of percussion. Beraha subsequently adds ethereal, droning wordless vocals while Crowley moves to clarinet. There’s a slight increase in momentum but the music retains its essential meditative quality, presumably inspired by Buddhist philosophy. Beraha and Crowley, on his new instrument, again combine to good effect, before the music shifts into more unstructured, experimental territory with Beraha now sounding more like Julie Tippetts or Maggie Nicols than Norma Winstone, her vocal tics complemented by piano and percussion. Eventually the piece resolves itself in the same serene manner in which it began, the music gently fading away into the ether.
With its stretching of song forms and experiments with electronics “Lucid Dreamers” is Beraha’s most adventurous and experimental album to date. The environmental and philosophical themes ensure that it’s also a very personal record that ranks as one of the most distinctive albums of the many that she has been involved with.
“Lucid Dreamers” is only the third recording under Beraha’s own name and is very much an expression of her own vision. Her singing is less obviously influenced by Norma Winstone than previously, helping to create a distinct and personal sound world. Beraha’s vocals are as accomplished and inspiring as ever and she receives superb support from an empathic quartet comprised of old friends, all of them hugely talented and versatile musicians.
Credit also goes to the engineering team of Alex Bonney and Peter Beckmann and also to Solstice drummer Will Glaser who reveals another side to his talent by providing the distinctive album artwork.
The Iklectik show was filmed by Louise Boer and videos of the quartet performing live can be enjoyed at Beraha’s website http://www.brigitteberaha.com
Lucid Dreamers looks set to continue as a band and will hopefully be able to return to live performance shortly, particularly as the show scheduled for the Guildhall Jazz Festival in April had to be postponed until 2021.
blog comments powered by Disqus