Album reviews

Brigitte Beraha – ‘By the Cobbled Path’

Brigitte Beraha – By the Cobbled Path
(Let Me Out Records. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Over the past decade and a half, Brigitte Beraha has garnered an undeniable and rather unique respect and admiration amongst London musicians. From awestruck pupils who don’t always have the words to explain how versatile, capable – and also how helpful – she is…all the way to seasoned, seen-it-all session players whose carapace of cynicism instantly disappears the moment her name is mentioned. They recall the musical feats she has achieved when she has come in as a last-minute replacement and completely conquered highly complex vocal parts with ease, landing securely on every outlandish atonal interval as if it was second nature. And then there are the fine projects she has built with kindred spirits, such as her duos with John Turville and Frank Harrison, or the band Solstice with Tori Freestone and others. I remember how Bobby Wellins admired her work – seen clearly in Melody McLaren’s photos from 2013 HERE.

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For those of us who (think we) know those sides of her talent, this album is a surprise. The easiest place for us to land first might be Track 5: “Too Far To Hear My Singing”. The opening is folky, direct, but by the time we hear words such as “Through my magnifying glass…” (all the lyrics are by Beraha herself) that craft of making unusual lines feel completely natural shines through, amid a layering of textures and the creation of dense soundscapes. All that complexity and the immersive experience feels completely organic.

But perhaps trying to locate the Brigitte Beraha we already know is actually a misguided way to approach this album. Perhaps the right way is to just submit to the twists and turns of its story. The album is conceived to be listened right through, and maybe the whole point is that she has consciously and deliberately reinvented herself. As the press release notes, experimental projects such as working on Basil Kirchin’s music in Hull in 2017, and the Ethan Iverson Purcell residency at Kings Place in 2018, have expanded her horizons. So, in By the Cobbled Path we hear vocals combined with recorded sounds that “capture sounds of the external environment at the time” to “provide a vehicle for various conversations and improvisations.” And, alongside Chris Sharkey, she has clearly been highly creative in the post-production.

Or maybe the right thing to do is to approach By the Cobbled Path from the deep end, and start with the most ambitious and longest structure: “Moonstruck”, just over 11 minutes long, or nearly a third of the album. It is a wonderful musical environment in which to lose yourself. Or there is “Doors”, echoing the beautifully evocative title image of a weather-worn door surrounded by an overgrowth of ferns (yup, the photo was taken by her too…), a touchingly poetic meditation.

“On My Bike” is delightful. It has Beraha’s spoken voice. When she asks “Is everyone OK?” one can instantly recognise the kind of joyful empathetic energy she brings to her musical life. The track juxtaposes fragile and beautiful musical sounds and all that empathy and sensitivity contrasted with the dull thrum of traffic is wonderfully expressive.

By the Cobbled Path is a wholly new and welcome direction for an artist whose talents are many and varied. Being released on Beraha’s own label, it won’t attract the hype and gush or the reach that a larger label might bring to far inferior material. It is nevertheless a powerful and important statement from an artist capable not just of doing something new and unpredictable, but also of bringing sheer quality to it. Just when one thinks one understands what an artist as fine and as versatile as Brigitte Beraha can do, it is time to think again.

LINK: By the Cobbled Path is available on Bandcamp

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