Chichester Jazz Club
Still Greater Expectations - 16 December 2005

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I expect that my reader must be getting tired of all these variations on ‘expectations’. It is very appropriate for this review, however. My high expectations of the Brigitte Beraha Quintet were founded on repeated hearings of their album Prelude To A Kiss and hearing them perform live at their album launch. Theirs was clearly music of originality, influenced but not constrained by the past, performed with great confidence and technical assurance. High praise from such as Cleo Laine and John Dankworth, Humphrey Lyttleton, Lee Gibson, and Kenny Wheeler convinced me that I was on the right track. I also found a review in Jazz Review magazine that identifies Brigitte Beraha’s predominant qualities: ‘one of those singers who primarily emphasises the jazz elements of her craft’. Selecting from the review, ’her scatting; her lively and spontaneous interaction with the band; and her adventurous choices of route through the melodies of standards; her excellent composing and arranging skills. She concentrates on the music’s core values: imagination, individuality, and improvisation. The voice may not be the most flexible or dynamically varied instrument but it’s undeniably powerful and enviably clear‘. I wish I’d written all that!

So how was it for me? It was the ideal end to a happy day – corny but true! I was very surprised by the progress that the band had made from an already high level, playing with even more assurance and cohesion. The repertoire was wider and richer than before with surely enough standards for any jazz fan – and every single number arranged by Brigitte herself. For originality and creativity this was certainly my favourite gig of the season so far – I’m sure it wasn’t the favourite of some members of CJC who want the old stuff played the old way by the same old musicians. In case anyone thinks this is a direct dig at the bands that have performed at CJC in the past, just read my (guaranteed 99% honest!) reviews.

Let’s talk about the live music! A selection of some of the more delightful numbers: East Of The Sun: a standard to start, with a typically distinctive arrangement, was followed by a haunting version of Moon And Sand - an Alec Wilder composition recorded by veteran guitarist Kenny Burrell – that featured Phil Donkin, surely one of the most creative and solid bassists anywhere. An energetic version of Porter’s You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To gave solo space to everyone except Phil. Barry Green showed that he is moving steadily higher from his rising piano star status and Ingrid Laubrock was amazing and brought creative composure to her tenor solo – drawing on her work in the avant garde arena but never frightening the natives! George Hart on drums played a nice, relevant short solo to complement his excellent ensemble work, which was more convincing than when I heard him before. The mood switched again to two of Brigitte’s own compositions: the abstract Elephants On Wheels, a Kenny Wheeler instrumental with Brigitte’s words and arrangement. This number was another chance for Ingrid to revel in the dark and imaginative musical world in which she so excels. Ingrid was also prominent on the compelling Got No Blues, for which Brigitte has written a new arrangement since the album, making it more of a vehicle for the band’s solo skills. Both Kenny Wheeler and I are so impressed by Brigitte’s writing!

There followed two standards by two Rodgers and Hart tunes. The first was I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, the recorded up tempo arrangement with excellent long solos from Barry and Phil, a nice drum break from George, and Ingrid sitting out - very nicely. The second was a duo version by Brigitte and Barry of It Never Entered My Mind, which Brigitte introduced as ‘my current favourite’. This was a fine performance that demonstrated Brigitte’s ability to convey emotion without diva-like histrionics and Barry’s ability to create spare<


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