Lucid Dreamers (Brigitte Beraha) – Blink
(Let Me Out Records. Album review by AJ Dehany)
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Dreaming continues to permeate the work of Brigitte Beraha’s quartet Lucid Dreamers on this second album Blink, but in a way that upsets the normal order of dreams. There’s a Perry Bible Fellowship cartoon where you see someone falling in the sky, then someone waking in bed, and then someone crashing through their roof on top of them. Vocalist Brigitte Beraha is an adventurous musician who fuses composition with improvisation, poetry with wordless utterances and complex vocal arrangements. Touchstones for me are the dark avant garde glossolalia of Diamanda Galas and Mary Margaret O’Hara allied to the lighter outlook of Meredith Monk and Lauren Kinsella as well as the great and the good of more conventional jazz vocalists ike Nishla Smith or Tara Minton, and of course the huge shadow of Norma Winstone.
That first album contained fewer slowly developing pieces generally centring on complex vocal layerings. Blink’s opener, called Opening, is a continuation and setting out of the abstract vocal sound with subtle electronics, but then we change direction. After reprising those extended dark electro-acoustic textures, title track Blink surprised my with a rich piano-vocal songy song, almost a conventional jazz ballad… but one which expands into a more nightmarish probing of pure sound and hypnotic rhythm.
Alcyona Mick’s piano playing is chiming, rich and sensuous where before it was more oblique and minimalistic. George Crowley is a diverse powerhouse saxophonist and here sounds comfortable bringing a lyrical jazz playing to give the atmospheric sound an appeal to the enjoyment of identifying individual voices and hearing what they have to say. With expanded roles, the group certainly gives a sense of having something to say a group.
Everyone and everything is bigger this time round. The sound for example, is, clearer and more dynamic, benefitting from a studio recording at Livingston rather than the live recording at Iklectik. Many albums have been recorded at Iklectic and I’ve marvelled that such a poor room sound always seems to translate to an excellent recording, but perhaps that’s just the genius of Alex Bonney, who recorded and mixed both of these albums. Produced by Beraha herself it maintains its mysteries without washing out the clarity of the sound.
The electronics are mostly quite subtle and atmospheric, pushed into the background this time rather than foregrounded, supporting the more confident musicianship of the group after the drift toward abstraction in the first album. Judiciously deployed electronics and crazy echo from Crowley. Wait for me brings more of the ‘Echoes’ era Floyd sparse electronics of the previous LP…full on slow ambient techno, different to anything before, abstract but rhythmic, and quite curious.
Lullaby has disturbing lyrics “father after don’t you fret your mind is on vacation you and I might never get to know each other” to which you are encouraged to bring your own meaning but I wonder how many of us thought grimly of the effects of dementia? It’s an arrestingly emotional moment no matter what you bring to it. again the piano/voice ballad — Lullaby is another jazzier songier song with rich piano chords and melodic playing from Crowley, benefitting from the crisper more direct sound.
While there are these moments of compositional enjoyment, at other times it goes full on sound art. Doors is this weird poem of covid incarceration mania that they improvise around: “I love doors everything about them well almost everything” then with cutlery sounds and it does evoke Ivor Cutler and his ivory cutlery—spoken & uttered—sound art really, developing into lyricalless very graceful melismatic singing. Modulo 7 brings same more familiar wordless vocalising in jazz idiom over eleven graceful minutes with acres of space, yet still it sounds like a performance rather than ambient or soundscape or too determinedly ‘sound art’—experimentalism is dyed in rather than contrived at.
Before the album’s coda, its epic centrepiece, Too Far To Hear My Singing, with Beraha softly singing lyrics again, the pacing is abstract with vocals leading the group into a deep sonic bath of electronics clustered quite densely. Dark but not oppressive, it’s nonetheless quite a journey. This varied and confident album is a fantastic step forward for the group, who have been of course one stymied as per by covid. I was hoping to see them recently in Gateshead but covid struck again. As the tension ratchets up ahead of a resumption, the group should be an intriguing live proposition—this album lays out the stand, issues the manifesto, but with its turns between sound art and jazz, they are becoming an ever more intriguing and unpredictable proposition.
AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
Release date 20 May 2022. Limited vinyl and CD, and digital – brigitteberaha.bandcamp.com/album/blink
Categories: Album reviews