Sara Mitra previews four appearances by vocalist Brigitte Beraha during the 2011 London Jazz Festival
Reading through the programme booklet for this year’s London Jazz Festival, I was overwhelmed by the richness of music on offer. So, rather than picking a few gigs to recommend, I decided to focus on one musician across a number of gigs: vocalist Brigitte Beraha. Brigitte is a dear friend so I cannot pretend to be objective, but I can write about what I admire in her music, and why I think she is a great voice to follow at this festival.
I find that it helps me to understand more about a player by seeing them in contrasting musical situations, rather than always in the comfort zone of leading their own group. Many of the instrumentalists I respect pop up in a number of different ensembles, and it is a great pleasure to hear them improvise in different ways according to the different parameters of each group. Good instrumentalists use different bits of their musical muscle and brain for their different gigs.
By contrast, singers are – according to the well-worn stereotype – crap at being less than the centre of attention, unable to adapt to what an ensemble throws at them. Maybe that is why instrumentalists often feel antipathy towards singers, because singers just stand there and let the (musical) world revolve around them (as the old lightbulb joke goes). Whether this stereotype is still relevant nowadays or not, there are only a few singers I know who have the ability to morph between bands and still remain within their own voice, and Brigitte is without doubt one of the best out there.
She is always a connected part of the ensemble and her gift at interpreting other people’s compositions lies in her “ego-less” approach. Separate from leading their own groups, when guesting in someone else’s project a lot of singers can get in the way of the song, their own style of performing is the focus rather than being a pure conduit for the composer’s material. Whilst that ‘performance artist’ approach can make for impressive fireworks on stage, with Brigitte I always feel it is the other way around: that she rises above the need to impress with tricks and just delivers what the music needs (which is a thousand times more difficult than she makes it look!).
Purity is not colourless, it requires a great deal of restraint and simultaneous outpouring. A serene and benevolent presence on stage, a singer at home in French and other languages, and – something she absolutely excels in – wordless singing, Brigitte is the go-to woman for a number of groups performing at the Festival, and I sincerely recommend checking out her approach across these contrasting ensembles.
Brigitte Beraha London Jazz Festival dates:
Sunday 13th November 2011: Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s as part of Jumoke Fashola’s Jazz Verse Juke Box (on around 9.45pm)
Monday 14th November 2011: Dave Manington’s Riff Raff at Olivers, Greenwich, 8pm.
Wednesday 16th November 2011: Solstice at e17jazz, Walthamstow Cricket Club, 8.30pm.Solstice are: Tori Freestone-tenor sax & flute John Turville-piano Jez Franks-guitar Brigitte Beraha-voice Dave Manington-double bass Tim Giles-drums
Sunday 20th November 2011: e17jazz Large Ensemble at e17jazz, Walthamstow, 2pm.
Sara Mitra will be appearing in the London Jazz Festival as support for Kaz Simmons at Oliver’s Bar in Greenwich on Sunday November 13th at 8pm.