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Julia Biel

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Reviews of Julia Biel

 

18/04/2006 ****THE INDEPENDENT

Live review of performance at The Vortex, London (FRI 14 APRIL)

"Just occasionally, one has the chance to catch an artist on the verge of a breakthrough. Those of us who watched Norah Jones on her first UK date at a small Soho club could not have known that within a few months her voice would assail us from every radio in the land. But it was clear that there was something special about her. With the right marketing, Julia Biel could be in line for a similarly meteoric rise. Her voice shares some of the dreamy, caramel-dripped quality that made Jones's tones so instantly beguiling, and, also like Jones, she is not a straight-ahead jazz singer.

Still less so, in fact, as Biel's set of short, perfectly framed vignettes doesn't draw from the Great American Songbook. One could as well make comparisons with Bjork for her occasional startling directness, or with the unvarnished edges of Tom Waits.

The line-up of her band - guitar, drums, double bass, clarinet and cello - suggests agenre-crossing desire evident in the styles the group favours. Medium latin gives way to gentle highlife, or a rumbustious swaying over a thudding bass. Idris Rahman's clarinet wails as if from the casbah, or forms a chewy texture with the cello. The guitar of Biel's co-songwriter, Jonny Phillips, provides a crystal-clear contrast, a splash of fresh water over the opium haze mellowness that the band is so adept at creating.

Biel's voice is strong, with a density of tone that makes it arresting. On higher registers, her sound is purer but not overly refined. If no number moves terribly fast, that seems to be because her voice issues forth like a thick curl of smoke' it cannot be rushed.

Nor would the listener desire the metronome to be wound tighter. This is music to wash over and calm an audience, to send them into a trance' music that demands a hush descend over a packed room in east London, as it did at the Vortex during her performance.

Jazz is one of the elements that contributes to Biel's compelling sound, but it does not define it, which means that she has the capability to reach far beyond a jazz audience.

If it seems odd for a jazz critic to be praising her for this, it is because the appearance of a truly individual artist with a full bag of distinctive, convincing songs is always to be welcomed, whatever the genre.

Her contribution to a Nokia commercial may soon set Julia Biel on the road to the kind of success she deserves."

Sholto Byrnes

 

21/08/2005 ****THE OBSERVER MUSIC MONTHLY

No. 4 (out of the 50 best albums of the month across all genres) The Real Biel: at last, a new jazz singer pleases...

"Spare a thought for the record industry which is confused poor thing. There it was busy signing the latest teenage rapper of a misogynist bent, or the latest indie-rock band with psychotic stares, when all of a sudden a demure Norah Jones comes along with more than 17 million sales for Come Away With Me.

Suddenly the rush was on to sign more of the same - from Diana Krall to Katie Melua via Joss Stone and Lizz Wright. The result is that we're up to here in jazzy singers. Which makes it increasingly difficult to stand out in what has become a very crowded field.

Julia Biel, though, has managed to do just that by avoiding songs that are three times as old as she is; giving a wide berth to the kind of faux existential angst peddled by Melua; or producing the kind of album that fulfils the function of 'furniture music', Erik Satie's term for undemanding background music that fills social spaces (Jones, Krall).

On a well-crafted album of originals that explore a wide range of moods, she's content to let melody and lyrics do the work for her. Not only is her voice warm and natural, but nothing sounds forced and she's convincing. Which of course, is a sure sign of genuine talent."

Stuart Nicholson

 

01/07/2005 **** JAZZWISE

"Vocalist Julia Biel's breezy soul-folk is a tonic for those weary of endless standards and Songbook recycling. Not quite a jazz singer (but then nor is Norah Jones), Biel remains one of the most underrated vocalists we have, combining a dusky yet fragile way with words (try Norah-meets-Bjork-meets-Thom Yorke) with heartfelt songwriting.

In the same way that Cassandra Wilson weaves magic by stripping music down to its rootsiest essentials, Biel's repertoire is folksy and down-tempo and not without a pop twist. On the gorgeous 'Not Alone', she also works with a hugely sympathetic band blessed with more than a few F-IRE starters. Co-creating with guitarist Jonny Phillips, Biel concocts memorable melodies whether it is the Amelie-sweetness of 'Souvenir', the finger-popping Afro-ballad 'By the Light of You' or the lovely cello lines on 'Choro'. Biel won the Perrier Jazz Award several years ago, but since then has blossomed into a truly distinctive and charming singer/songwriter."

Tom Barlow

 

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