by Ian Mann
September 20, 2022
An intriguing evening of music that explored the outer limits of the human voice in a performance that mixed acoustic and electronic sounds and genuinely poetic words.
Brigitte Beraha’s Lucid Dreamers Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 17/09/2022
Brigitte Beraha – voice, electronics, singing bowl, Alcyona Mick – keyboard, synthesiser,
George Crowley – tenor saxophone, electronics, Tim Giles – drums, percussion, electronics
Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s first event in their 2022/23 season saw The Hive visited by this innovative quartet led by vocalist, lyricist and songwriter Brigitte Beraha.
Beraha has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages as the leader of her own projects and as a member of the co-operative ensembles Babelfish and Solstice, plus Riff Raff, the sextet led by bassist and composer Dave Manington.
A particularly adventurous vocalist and lyricist who has been inspired by the great Norma Winstone Beraha has also featured as a very welcome guest on recordings by pianists Ivo Neame and Geoff Eales, trumpeters Andre Canniere, Andy Hague and Reuben Fowler and saxophonists Ed Jones, Issie Barratt and Kevin Figes among others.
Tonight was her second visit to The Hive after having appeared there in 2016 as half of a duo with pianist John Turville, the pair performing music from their “Red Skies” album, a recording that included a guest appearance from the late, great Bobby Wellins. That performance saw Wellins’ role filled by tonight’s saxophonist George Crowley. Review here;
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. In the same year she also appeared as a guest on the album “Criss Cross”, a duo recording by tonight’s pianist pianist Alcyona Mick and saxophonist Tori Freestone.
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.
The Lucid Dreamers band was first brought together as a trio (Beraha, Crowley, Giles) for a performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall commissioned by the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival. The success of that inaugural performance saw the group expanded to a quartet with the addition of pianist Alcyona Mick and the music on the first Lucid Dreamers album was documented at a live performance on 15th January 2020 at the Iklectik venue in Waterloo, London. Album review here;
The album was arguably Beraha’s most adventurous release thus far and mixed acoustic and electric elements with Beraha, Crowley and Giles all credited with “electronics” in addition to voice and conventional instruments.
A second Lucid Dreamers album, the studio recording “Blink” appeared in 2022 and is reviewed here;
Lockdown proved to be a particularly creative time for Beraha who continued her experiments with electronics and the manipulation of the human voice to produce the entirely solo album “By The Cobbled Path” in 2021. Initially inspired by the Lucid Dreamers project this can very much be seen as a companion piece to the band’s work and tonight’s performance saw some of the “Cobbled Path” material being performed by the quartet. Album review here;
Having enjoyed the two Lucid Dreamers albums I was very much looking forward to seeing the quartet performing live. On entering the performance space at The Hive I was staggered to see so much electronic equipment on display. Beraha, Crowley and Giles each had a table that was groaning under the weight of a myriad of electronic gizmos and the subtle manipulation of these devices was to form a key part of this performance, although as Beraha later told me the group do sometimes perform in a more conventional ‘acoustic’ manner. Every performance is slightly different, hence the appeal of this music we call ‘jazz’. Of course ‘conventional’ instruments were to figure too with Crowley on tenor sax, Giles at the drum kit and Mick deploying a Nord Electro 6 keyboard and a small Behringer MS-1 synth.
The first set commenced with the title track from “Blink” and featured Beraha playing the singing bowl and live looping its ethereal reverberations. Crowley, playing off mic, added wisps of tenor sax melody and Giles supplied mallet rumbles from the kit. Following this ambient introduction the addition of Beraha’s voice steered the music in a more conventional direction with Giles moving from mallets to sticks and Mick deploying an electric piano sound on the Nord. On a song that she dedicated to her late grandmother Beraha’s Winstone like vocals reflected on the transience of human life with lines like “you blink so fast, it’s gone so fast” and “nothing left upon the sea, nothing left for us to see”. Crowley’s increasingly powerful tenor sax solo represented the instrumental highlight, a humanising element among the swathes of electronic sounds generated by Mick’s keyboards and the multitudinous electronic devices on display.
Next we heard “Doors”, a track from Beraha’s solo album “By The Cobbled Path” that was subsequently re-recorded by the quartet for “Blink”. Her introduction to the song merged into the performance, her speaking voice declaring “I love doors, everything about them… well, almost everything”. Using doors as a metaphor her words combined childlike wonder with eternal truths - “time watches them crack little by little, whilst behind them humans live and die”. The words were augmented by vocal tics and moans, approximating the squeaking and creaking of ancient doors, the sounds of Beraha’s voice also subject to electronic manipulation. Giles’ drums and percussion also played a significant role, shadowing or reflecting the timbres of the leader’s voice, and he and Crowley also made substantial electronic contributions, creating a chilly ambient soundscape as the backdrop to Beraha’s semi-spoken, semi-sung vocals. Many of the pieces on “Cobbled Path” began life as poems, and I suspect that this may have been the case here.
Also from the “Cobbled Path” album “Moonstruck” began with Beraha solo, looping and layering her voice with the aid of electronics to create a one woman choir, with vocal melodies again supplemented by less conventional tics, sighs and moans. The lyrics told the story of the imagined horrors of a sleepless night and the eventual salvation brought by the break of dawn the following day. Beraha’s vocals were subsequently augmented by drums and electronics, the latter creating shifting, dream like soundscapes. Crowley’s sax solo seemed to express that breaking of the dawn and the piece ended with the icy shimmer of Giles’ cymbals. Beraha subsequently explained that the song had begun life as a simple one chord piece, but had subsequently become more complicated, particularly in this new quartet version.
The first set concluded with “Disorderly Ruin”, one of the pieces from the London Jazz Festival commission that subsequently appeared on the first Lucid Dreamers album. The LJF suite addressed “the industrial world that we live in” and we were to hear more from it in the second half.
“Disorderly Ruin” commenced with the sounds of Crowley’s sax flutters and Giles’ electronics, with Beraha’s voice and lyrics and Mick’s electric piano later added and with Giles eventually moving to the drum kit. The title was reflected in Beraha’s lyrical musings and the freely structured nature of the music, with the quartet stretching the fabric of the song to its limits.
Set two commenced with a segue of the standard “Meaning of the Blues” and “Orderly Ruin”, another movement from the LJF commission. These pieces also appear in conjoined form on the first Lucid Dreamers album.
Written by Bobby Troup and Leah Worth “The Meaning of the Blues” has been recorded many times with Beraha taking her inspiration from versions by Shirley Horne and Miles Davis. But surely this much loved song has never sounded quite like this with Beraha’s voice looped and layered within a chilly ambient soundscape, the lyrics eventually emerging as a dark but wistful oratory.
Echoed vocals and staccato, marching rhythms evoked dystopian images on “Orderly Ruin”, which concluded with a solo from Mick, the Nord on an acoustic piano setting and with her jagged phrasing reminiscent of such players as Keith Tippett, Cecil Taylor and Myra Melford.
“Too Far To Hear My Singing” saw a return to the “Cobbled Path” / “Blink” repertoire, with different versions of the song having appeared on both albums. This was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano from Mick, still playing on an acoustic setting. She was joined by Beraha on what was the least electronically adorned piece of the evening, essentially a voice and piano duet with Giles later added on brushed drums. The lyrics conjured up images of a chilly winter landscape in the time of the second Covid lockdown, evoking a sense of alienation and isolation.
A new piece, “Words”, was given its “world première”. Exploring similar territory to the earlier “Doors” it began with the sound of Beraha’s speaking voice and a lengthy passage of prose that sounded akin to a political speech, culminating in the phrase, “What I really want to say is this”. At this point her voice was distorted by a combination of extended vocal techniques and electronic manipulation as the instrumentalists struck up an off kilter groove behind her, Mick adopting a funky clavinet like sound that was to feature more extensively in a later solo. In between times we heard slightly more orthodox vocalising from Beraha, her voice soaring wordlessly in the style of Norma Winstone before adding fresh lyrics to the mix. The performance concluded with something of a drum feature for Giles.
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 and she remains fascinated with vocabulary and language and the sound of the human voice. These factors inform her work, and no more so than on “Words”.
Following the comparative sound and fury of “Words” we now enjoyed the beautiful ballad “Lullaby”, a song not written for a child but for Beraha’s father who was suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s. This was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied ‘acoustic’ piano and later became a voice and piano duet with Beraha’s lyrics tackling the subject of dementia and its affect on family relationships.- “Father your mind is on vacation, you and I might never get to know each other”.
Beraha’s tender vocals and Mick’s sympathetic piano accompaniment were subsequently enhanced by Crowley’s sax soloing, essentially lyrical but still with something of an ‘edge’.
The performance concluded with “Modulo 7”, one of the lengthiest pieces on the “Blink” album and one that here combined treated vocals with electronics to create a constantly evolving soundscape that alternated between soaring passages featuring saxophone and wordless vocals and more abstract passages dominated by the chilly, sinister sounds of electronica. Crowley’s powerful sax soloing was an important element here while Mick’s keyboard sounds also included an organ like drone.
Thus ended an intriguing evening of music that explored the outer limits of the human voice in a performance that mixed acoustic and electronic sounds and genuinely poetic words. This was music that I found to be both adventurous and enjoyable, although some audience members did express reservations, particularly with the regard to such extensive use of electronics.
I’m sorry to report that Lucid Dreamers didn’t draw a particularly large crowd to The Hive but there may have been a number of factors at play here, including the experimental nature of the music, the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II and uncertainty about whether the gig would go ahead, the cost of living crisis and the fact that a free rock festival was going on at other venues around Shrewsbury.
But it’s better to focus on those that were there rather than those that were not and overall most attendees found the music to be both intriguing and enjoyable. My thanks go to all four band members for speaking with me afterwards.
Let’s hope SJN will be rewarded with larger audiences for their forthcoming events which include;
Hugh Pascall Quartet – 08/10/22
Vitor Pereira Quintet / Electric Chamber – 12/11/2022
Chris Gumbley Quintet – The Music of Cannonball Adderley – 10/12/22
More at http://www.shrewsburyjazznetwork.co.uk
Further dates on the Lucid Dreamers tour are;
Friday 28th October 2022
Brigitte Beraha’s Lucid Dreamers ‘Blink’ Tour
ROYAL WELSH COLLEGE OF MUSIC & DRAMA
Saturday 29th October 2022
Brigitte Beraha’s Lucid Dreamers ‘Blink’ Tour
ST GEORGE’S BRISTOL
Saturday 29th October 2022
Brigitte Beraha featuring George Crowley, Alcyona Mick & Tim Giles
JAZZ @ ST GILES, 7:30PM
Further information at;
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