CD REVIEW: Babelfish - Chasing Rainbows

Babelfish - Chasing Rainbows
(Moletone Records 006. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

At the heart of Babelfish are Brigitte Beraha (vocals) and Barry Green (piano), who have written and arranged this mix of original, jazz and Classical pieces. Beraha’s pure, airy voice complements Green’s lyrical piano, and they’re joined by the excellent Chris Laurence (bass) and Paul Clarvis (percussion). This new CD is about love in its many forms. The album as a whole describes the unravelling of love, and the title Chasing Rainbows expresses the mood of Romantic longing that pervades it.

Beraha’s You, Me and the Rest of the World opens with a delicate, joyful Latin melody and fine ensemble improvising behind the vocal solo- you feel they’re all working together intuitively. ‘No love at first sight, but all of its other shades’ she sings, and the next song has a shadier mood. Caetano Veloso’s song for film director Michelangelo Antonioni, sung in Italian by Beraha (she was born in Italy) picks out details: ‘empty corner’, ‘useless window’, to allude to lost love. The slow atmospheric tango breaks into double time for a thoughtful piano solo from Green.

Perhaps the most conventionally jazzy piece is based on Monk’s Ask Me Now, (reworked as Your Turn to Ask) Its subtly swung opening piano solo is both beautiful and prickly. Beraha’s lyrics to a Steve Lacy solo- ‘I dare you, go ahead and ask me now’ -reveal the full range of her supple voice, light and dreamy.

Interspersed throughout the CD are minute-long solo improvisations on a Green riffy piece- Confusion. Each band member plays their own version of it- Barry’s, Chris’, Paul’s (you can quite clearly hear the tune played on the drums) and Brigitte’s Confusion. Beraha seems to be learning the piece as she goes along, her glottal hesitations part of the whole till she gets it right, in a wonderfully playful piece of free improv.

Beraha’s Sushi Hero (love of Sushi?) is a personal favourite- a lilting, almost Eastern (Beraha is half Turkish) diminished-scale melody: piano and breathy vocal in unison over shifting percussion and a rhythmic bass pedal, pulling the harmony back and forth from major to minor. The piano and vocal improvisations are like Indian ragas, improvising on a scale over complex rhythms- the bass is as percussive as Clarvis’ cabasa.

Her Nuit Blanche couldn’t be more different: sung in French, it opens like a French Chanson, becoming a slow tango, lamenting the evanescence of love like a Michel Legrand song. The voice is soft, a little like Fleurine. The piano solo is so haunting, you couldn’t help but wish for it to be a little higher in the mix.

Both Green and Beraha studied Classical music as well as jazz, and their version of Copland’s setting of Emily Dickinson’s poem Heart We Will Forget Him is exquisite. One of British singer Norma Winstone’s gift to younger singers is to give them the freedom to sing in a natural style, and she’s clearly an influence on Beraha here. Green’s piano is close to the original, with some laid back phrasing. It merges into the theme from Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu, reworked by Carroll and McCarthy as I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, with its ruefully regretful words. Britten arranged the traditional melody of W.B Yeats’ poem Salley Gardens, and Beraha has added to it brilliantly. She turns Britten’s counterpoint lines into an irresistible bass/piano riff. The voice is plaintive and folk-edged, ‘full of tears’.

The Story Ends is Beraha’s wordless lament for lost love; her Unspoken has an excellent, plangent bass solo. Green’s compositions have rather less romantic titles (Knocked Knees, Stubble Rash). The first is dreamily joyful in 11/8, the voice melting into the piano, which becomes stronger and bluesier. The album is dedicated to Kenny Wheeler, and Stubble Rash sounds Wheeler-esque, a little like the Opening to his Music for Large and Small Ensembles with its free-floating phrases and expressive percussion. The final Confusion ends the album, as they all improvise with Ornette Coleman-ish freedom, having fun being confused.

It’s a pleasure to enter the original music language of this band: a world of playfulness and beauty, where anything could happen- you’re caught up in their sense of mystery and imagination.

CD Launch: Pizza Express Dean St., Tues 21st April

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