Photo Credit: Monika S Jakubowska
Babelfish have a 19-date tour of the UK from September to November 2018. Singer Brigitte Beraha talked to Alison Bentley about working with pianist Barry Green, bassist Chris Laurence and percussionist Paul Clarvis, and their plans for a new album:
LondonJazz News: This is quite a tour…
Brigitte Beraha: Yes, it’s really exciting. It’s the first really big tour for Babelfish – we’re taking the band down to Cornwall and all the way up to Aberdeen. It’s quite tough to organise but thankfully, as the band is both run by Barry Green and myself, I got in touch with venues and Barry with Arts Council England, who are supporting the tour. We’ve already done a few dates such as Cleethorpes and Manchester Jazz Festival
The Autumn kicks off at Pizza Express Jazz Club 12 September in London, where we’ll be playing a handful of world premieres! After 18 dates we’re then coming back to London to the Vortex Jazz Club 30 November, so it’s nice to start and end in our home town and see where the music’s been taking us. Other dates include the intimate St Lawrence Chapel (23 Sep) in Ashburton, and The North Devon Jazz Club (24 Sep) as part of their book festival. This sparked the idea of writing new music connected to the books Barry and I have been reading, and that have left a mark on us in one way or another. Then one of my favourite venues: the Soundcellar in Poole (27 Sep) and after the South West leg we’re going back up North. I absolutely love playing in Scotland so can’t wait to take the band to Kircaldy (3 Oct) then Aberdeen on (4 Oct). Finally we’re at the lush St George’s in Bristol on (29 Nov) before returning to London.
To be honest I’m really looking forward to every single concert, as each one is going to be a new experience. I love that I never quite know what to expect with Babelfish, but thankfully the band and the audience always seem to come back from the journey with a smile! We’ll be recording our third album towards the end of the tour, so by then the Babelfish magic should be captured well!
LJN: Which books will you be focusing on?
BB: We’re still writing as we speak – we love the idea of having plenty more tunes than we need for the album, and the fact that we have so many dates allows us to do this. One writer I’m obsessed with at the moment is Donna Tartt. I’ve written a tune relating to a passage in her Goldfinch; also, The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch, and I’ve set some French poetry to music. I’m currently writing a song inspired by The Book Of Joy, which is basically Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama coming together for a week in a historical meeting, and talking about how to find joy and live with it. Barry loves Paul Auster and he’s written something based on City Of Glass. There’ll be loads of other surprises and a very wide range of things, from The Book Of Joy to science fiction.
LJN: Would you say that your new music has similar influences to your previous music? Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, British folk music…
BB: Yes, I think that’s always going to be there in there somewhere, as well as some of the jazz tradition. I think also a big influence for us comes from classical and contemporary music, which both Barry and I grew up listening to. The merging of contemporary jazz, free improv and contemporary classical music is something I’m more and more drawn towards. People like Ches Smith, Craig Taborn & Mat Maneri, for example, are so incredible at merging these in such a way that I sometimes don’t know what’s written or improvised, and I love that. Other influences include John Hollenbeck and his large ensemble (which also features the amazing Theo Bleckmann on voice), Paul Bley, Bill Carrothers and Lee Konitz. Then folk, Brazilian and alternative music might sometimes influence my more ’song-like’ tunes. Every tune I write goes through a different process so it’s never boring for me and bound to sound a little different!
LJN: What do Chris Laurence and Paul Clarvis bring to the band?
BB: I still pinch myself on every gig – it’s amazing that they’re part of this band. They’re legends. Barry and I have played together for a long time – we studied together, played standards gigs and he featured on my debut album. It was about 2010 when we decided we wanted to collaborate and do something a bit different. It was funny how we both thought of the same people. We looked up to Chris and Paul way before we started playing with them, aware that they featured on so many of the movies we’d seen, and watching them play with Kenny Wheeler, Norma, John Taylor, John Surman, and so many more. That’s where I saw them first – with my heroes. They are incredible musicians and masters on their instruments. Not only do I trust them 100% when we’re on stage, but they create beauty and there’s also a lot of humour and lightness when they play. They love to have fun and it’s infectious; that is so important for me. They don’t play small clubs that often really, so the fact that we’re doing this tour together is a real treat.
LJN: You sing in different languages. Is that why the band’s called Babelfish?
BB: I was born in Italy (my dad’s Turkish and my Mum’s half-English, half Turkish) and then I moved to the south of France. Growing up I learned Italian, Spanish, French and a little Turkish. Portuguese then was easier to pick up. I was always fascinated by languages way before I took up singing. So I love singing in any language really, even languages I don’t speak – Arabic, Greek. I guess that’s in part why I love singing wordlessly so much as well- you make up your own language as you go along. So the name Babelfish seemed apt, though it was Barry’s mum who came up with it, I seem to recall! It’s from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. [If you put the Babelfish in your ear it immediately translates other languages.] From the onset we said we wanted to have a band that played great music regardless of where it came from, with no boundaries, and which would hopefully speak to everyone.
12th Sept. Pizza Express Jazz Club, London 16 Sept Lancaster Jazz Festival (12.30pm)
20 Sept Jazz North East, Newcastle
23 Sept Ashburton Live, South Devon
24 Sept North Devon Jazz Club
25 Sept St Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall
26 Sept Flute and Tankard, Cardiff (Duo)
27 Sept The Soundcellar, Poole
2 Oct Parrjazz, Liverpool
3 Oct Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy, Scotland
4 Oct Blue Lamp, Aberdeen + workshop
5 Oct Wakefield Jazz
9 Oct The Stables, Milton Keynes
12 Oct Workshop, Birmingham Conservatoire
12 Oct Birmingham Jazz
13 Oct Derby Jazz
6 Nov Herts Jazz
29 Nov St Georges, Bristol
30 Nov. Vortex Jazz Club, London
LINK: Brigitte Beraha’s website