CD review

Berardi Foran Karlen – ‘Haven’

Berardi Foran Karlen – Haven
(Earshift Music EAR029. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

Australian pianist Sean Foran is likely to be best known for his vibrant and long-running jazz outfit Trichotomy, but this ensemble with vocalist Kristin Berardi and saxophonist Rafael Karlen (plus their guest, Luxembourg-based vibraphonist Pascal Schumacher) visits distinctly alternative environments. Formed in Brisbane and known as Berardi Foran Karlen, their award-winning debut release Hope In My Pocket landed in 2015. However, until now, this completed follow-up has been waiting in the wings while individual projects were pursued.

Haven is a suite of decidedly serene landscapes over which the sun only occasionally breaks through into major-key brio – but that’s not to say these immersive, storm-sheltered pathways lack beauty or life. Their yearning, shadowy moods are occasionally reminiscent of the Quercus world of June Tabor, Huw Warren and Iain Ballamy. Quite different, though, are Kristin Berardi’s blues-tinged, mostly wordless vocalisations which, as a fourth instrument, become carefully and inextricably entwined with piano, saxophone and vibraphone.

Berardi’s opener No Shepherds Live Here – the only track with a lyric, and potentially a radio-player – threads a weighty tale across its oscillating, aqueous motion (“How could he do it to you?… A wolf in sheep’s clothing strikes again”). Piano and vibraphone create water-droplet atmospheres in Ripple as brooding vocal patterns combine with Karlen’s sax, and both Orbit and Foran Policy (see what he did, there?) view a more shimmering, auroral aspect, Berardi’s scat-like extemporisations becoming freer. These are essentially the kinds of fluctuating moods created across this full hour, with tracks such as Revolving Doors, Bushfire Break and Bushfire Two offering space for improvisational freedom and for the listener’s imagination to wander.

Sean Foran’s comparatively agile Rambling finds vocal and instrumental lines resembling a chorus, and Schumacher’s vibraphone dexterity taking the quartet towards a clearer jazz orientation, though pensive Handwritten steers them back into the album’s recurring fragility. Echoic Chihuly delivers interesting, overlapped textures of voice, vibes and strummed piano strings; and Berardi’s Begin Again closes with quiet optimism, her tangibly brighter tones gracefully dancing with lush waves of piano and sax.

There can sometimes be a desire for this music to break out, rhythmically or emotively, onto another plane – and perhaps other ports are yet to be explored. But for now, the minimal, dreamlike state established in 2015’s debut continues to define this project. Given its now timely release, Haven’s focus and musicianship may offer safe anchorage to assuage our thoughts.

Haven is released today, available from Bandcamp

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