REVIEW: Brigitte Beraha and Friends at Karamel, N22

Brigitte Beraha and friends at Karamel N22

Brigitte Beraha and Friends
(Karamel, Wood Green N22. Review by Mike Collins)

The Karamel Restaurant is a large high ceilinged room in a former industrial building on Coburg Road, adjacent to the main Chocolate Factory in Wood Green's Cultural Quarter. Now known as the Chocolate Factory, Barratt’s extensive former confectionery Works buildings on Clarendon Road have become became the focus of the Wood Green cultural quarter. Several of the businesses operating within the buildings function as production facilities for the creative industry rather than as attractions for the general public, so many local residents wonder where and what this ‘cultural quarter’ actually is. Well, I can assure you that culture is alive and well in Wood Green in the form of Jazz and World Music at the Karamel Club (as it is more often called)!

The general ambience at the venue is that of a café bar, located in a large, airy room, with lots of space. The restaurant is vegan, although you don't have to have food, and there are small plates or desserts available or you can just have drinks.

For Thursday evenings, Stu Butterfield, a jazz drummer of note, books the bands - the 27th venue at which he has performed this role since 1995. Stu has been running gigs at the Karamel club for about 18 months, initially monthly and now weekly since April. “Mostly I invite musicians whose work I know of and admire, although I take suggestions from other musicians about who to book as well. The bar has organic wine and beers, so musicians are fed and watered healthily before the gig - they are well looked after and they always get paid!”

Brigitte Beraha's band for the evening was Stuart Hall on guitar, Dave Mannington on bass and mandolin, and Paul Clarvis on percussion. "I work with all three of the other musicians in different bands," Hall told me, "but this is the first time we've worked together as a quartet. We all live in North London and I met Brigitte at the Guildhall where we both taught on a course. I also have a duo with Brigitte which has only done a couple of gigs so far, but we are aiming for world domination!”

I arrived just in time for the second set, which opened with a song called Lisa - lovely relaxed vocals from Beraha and excellent guitar work from Hall. Egberto Gismonti's Palhaco followed, with a dynamic guitar accompaniment. Brigitte Beraha's expansive vocals filled the room, sounding joyful and happy, while the rhythm section provided a sensitive backdrop.

Dave Manington's mandolin made its appearance in the next song Asablanca adding its own special "colour" to the sound. The Beraha/Manington song Willow Tree was up next, with Hall swapping onto Telecaster guitar and Manington back on double bass. Reminiscent of a Laura Nyro song, the slow tempo allowed Paul Clarvis to fill the spaces in the minimalistic musical arrangement with dramatic and dynamic accents on his tiny kit, played with brushes while Stuart Hall filled in with evocative harmonics, arpeggios and occasional chords.

Stu Butterfield sat in with the band for the more uptempo number that followed, which featured wonderful harmonic guitar comping. Then it was back to bossa nova - a genre that Brigitte Beraha clearly feels totally at home with. Airto Moreira's song Papo Furado brought another change of instrumentation, featuring pandeiro, mandolin and acoustic guitar, lots of vocal whoops and swoops and scatting - as you might expect - and the venue's reverberant acoustics worked well for this! The mandolin, which was not amplified, was a bit lost in all this, but it didn’t seem to matter!

The next song, Keep On Moving was so newly-minted that Beraha was not even sure what it was called. Again, I found this somehow reminiscent of Laura Nyro's work! Finally, it was time for the last song - another bossa - Choro Do Anjo, originally by Joyce, which brought the evening gently to its close.

Mike Collins is a London-based music creator - producer, songwriter, studio musician - music technology consultant & author.

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