Leïla Martial: Baa Box – Warm Canto
(Laborie Jazz CD.LJ48. CD review by Sebastian Maniura)
Vocalist, clown and improvisor Leïla Martial releases her third album, Warm Canto, on 24 May. It features her trio Baa Box. The album focuses around the human voice, mostly hers, stretching its physical and musical capabilities. Made up of Martial, voice, glockenspiel and senza (thumb piano); Eric Perez, voice and guitar; and Pierre Tereygeol, voice, guitar and percussion, the trio explores looping, vocal effects and layered patterns to create an interesting and lively tone palate.
Growing up in a musical family, Martial studied at the Marciac Village Music College from the age of ten, later continuing her studies at Collège Jazz de Marciac, the home of the Jazz in Marciac festival. Leïla was torn between the career of an actress or a singer; it was her 2009 Concours de la Défense win that led her to pick music. Two albums followed; 2012’s Dance Floor, and 2017’s Baable, with Baa Box. The trio, according to her website, is named after the “baa” made by goats. This is because a goat “does not look for aesthetics, it IS”. The trio’s previous album was based on “epic rock,” the new album represents something quite different. This is another step on her self-professed journey of developing a magical musical language based on improvisation.
A large part of it is made up of beautiful, intricate vocalisation intertwined with looped vocal harmonies, percussive sung phrases and supportive guitar lines. The press release for the album states that it is influenced by “vocal possibilities beyond a Western framework, including Romani, Pygmée and Inuit”. Songs such as Nuit Pygmée showcase the range of Martial’s shape-shifting vocalisation, jumping from flowing lines to staccato, twisted, disjointed phrases. The band use loops to create a full and energetic sound on Serendipity, one of the albums rockier numbers, with its use of effect pedals on the vocals. The layering of the vocal lines give the effect of a choir supporting the song.
In the slower, more poignant numbers such as Le sourire du clown the instrumental aspect of the band is featured more prominently; creating an uneasy, creaking, rattling sound-world with feverish percussive tapping, slow and steady guitar lines and shimmering, sometimes quite creepy, vocalisations accompanied by glockenspiel. Jeanne allows the guitar to be more than just an accompanying instrument. Positioned seventh in the twelve-song order it is a welcome momentary break from the album’s fairly continuous vocal focus.
There is always a danger when using loop pedals and layered vocal lines that the music you make, especially if collated into an album, will be repetitive and aesthetically similar. Warm Canto does repeat textures and ideas, however this doesn’t hinder ones enjoyment of the music. Focusing more on the voice and its musical possibilities rather than using it as a means to an end in the song-writing process brings about interesting and fresh material. This is an accessible, enjoyable album with some real vocal gems embedded within.
Leïla Martial: Baa Box play the Manchester Jazz Festival on 26 May.