Album reviews

Camille Bertault and David Helbock – ‘Playground’

Camille Bertault and David Helbock – Playground
(ACT 9951-2. Album review by Alison Bentley

Prepare to be dazzled by this extraordinary duo: Austrian pianist David Helbock and French singer Camille Bertault. Both are well known in their own right; they’ve been working together since 2019, and this is their first album together.

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Both love Brazilian music – Bertault has spent a lot of time there – and they open with Egberto Gismonti’s Frevo. The word comes from the Portuguese for “to boil”, and their version bubbles up with playfulness and precision. It’s a complex tune and sung with delicacy and lightness at great speed. Helbock has looped prepared piano sounds and the grooves pick up some of the rock energy of the original. There’s even a diaphanous phase where the voice is high and pure – Bertault has classical control but jazz feel.

As in a well-paced set, the ballad Good Morning Heartache follows with French lyrics. There’s a kind of gentle, slow, bluesy stride on piano; the voice is intimate with a slight crackle in the low register. Bertault draws on her acting background in Helbock’s Lonely Supamen with entertaining cartoon-like vocal sounds; a blues-edged song emerges with a hint of Blossom Dearie in the tone. Some groovy prepared piano makes it sound extra percussive. Both have a classical background; and they bring something very new to Scriabin’s Étude in C-sharp minor, Op. 2, No.1. Its dark melancholic mood is lifted by the smooth wordless vocal line. The prepared piano has a dry tone in contrast with the clear voice.

“When I compose a song and when I am on stage I feel like a storyteller,” Bertault has said. The French lyrics to Aide-moi have compelling rhymes full of whimsically surreal images – a desire to escape into a world of freedom and laughter is reflected in the moods of the song. The strongly rhythmic piano works well against the delicacy of the vocals – they complement each other as they improvise freely together. Björk’s New World stays close to the original, with vocal layers and percussive sounds; Helbock’s Das Fabelwesen keeps the brooding intensity, colla voce, as the English lyrics dream of love alongside the chromatic resonant piano. In Bertault‘s Dans ma boîte, her voice is childlike with percussive cuica sounds over Latin cross-rhythms. The box in question holds an imaginary world, where dreams have neither heads nor tails, and stones and teapots are sung to.

The musical box opening to Monk’s Ask Me Now gives way to slow stride and glittering cluster chords, the voice perfectly poised in falsetto slides up to the high notes. The piano in Helbock’s Never Lived blends high energy funk with a Brazilian feel and agile scatted vocals. Bertault‘s ballad Bizarre with bells and subtly prepared piano is dreamy with long vocal notes. Helbock’s Para Hermeto has the atmospheric complexity of an Hermeto Pascoal tune – it’s a reminder that Pascoal himself wrote a tune for Helbock’s Random/Control band. The strong rhythm, with percussion overlaid, is enhanced at high speed with incredible accuracy by Bertault‘s deceptively light voice. They experiment with different voices and strummed piano strings – it’s very exciting.

The whole album is like a playground for their musicality and experimentation. Their musical discipline is worn lightly, and their sense of humour is never far away.

LINK: Purchase link at Presto Music

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