Once Upon a Tide

Artist: Babelfish

Date of Release: 29/06/2019

Catalogue no: Moletone 007

Label: Moletone

Price: £10

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Track Listing







The Book of Joy




Dido's Lament




The Inspector & the Collector








Haven't Met You yet




City of Glass




The Sea, the Sea




The Sea, the Sea




Casual Incompetence




Pretty Girl (Star-crossed Lovers)




Vie et Marée






Appearances by

Brigitte Beraha, Chris Laurence, Paul Clarvis

Once Upon a Tide – a new album from contemporary jazz quartet Babelfish that breathes musical life into literature, celebrating the powerful relationship between words and sound in inimitable style

“This is Babelfish's third and most mature album. [Beraha’s] style[...] can stop you in your tracks with her quiet but devastating intent in the most unexpected places.” **** Marlbank

“There's some quite amazing music on this album. Instruments are seamlessly integrated with the voice in this quartet, gathering many different elements together to create something fresh and personal. Rewarding listening!” John Surman

Embracing a wide range of influences and genres, Babelfish’s sound can only be defined by its diversity. Playing together since 2010, the quartet has a natural ease and rapport that is evident
in the playful, spontaneous qualities that imbue their music. 

In Once Upon a Tide, their third album, there is an emphasis on the group’s original material. Green and Beraha have taken inspiration from some of their favourite books to explore ideas of life and death, the beauty of impermanence and the cyclical nature of existence.

In The Sea, the Sea, inspired by the Iris Murdoch novel of the same name, Beraha sings: “Nature is death / Nature is life / A glimpse of permanence / Quickly overshadowed by impermanence / The beauty of the sea.” These ideas are reflected throughout the album in the intricate ebb and flow of the music, weaving words and sound to create recurrent motifs that echo like the break- ing of waves on the shore.

Although this album naturally sees a new level of importance placed on lyrics, the group’s ‘wordless language’ is still omnipresent, creating the unique sensorial and immersive sonic experience for which they are known. 

In tracks such as The Inspector and the Collector and the evocative Vie et Marée, the bounds of speech are broken as Beraha masterfully commands wordless improvisation and vocal sound ef- fects, entering an instrumental dialogue with the other musicians to reach new levels of expression.

“This album is reflective of both the surprising nature of life and our playing style. We all like to take risks and have fun, knowing that no matter where we start the end result is never set,” says Beraha. “It isn’t about striving for perfection but instead pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, following the music where it takes us and expressing something true in the moment.”

In the two non-original tracks on the album, this distinctive approach is still evident. From the classical Dido’s Lament by Henry Purcell to the Shakespeare-themed Ellington standard Pretty Girl (otherwise known as The Star-Crossed Lovers), there is a fluidity and freedom that transforms these well-known tracks into something enticingly new.

“From classical to jazz and everything in between, our love of music knows few limitations,” says Green. “This, combined with the four unique musical perspectives we have in the band, has allowed us to create something really fresh and original we’re excited to share.”




27/06/2019 Bebop Sppken Here

(Review by Steve H)

‘Nature is death, nature is life, a glimpse of permanence quickly overshadowed by impermanence, the beauty of the sea’ lines sung be Beraha on The Sea the Sea sums up the ethos of this band perfectly. The album sets out to reflect how it’s creation is a journey which takes the music in unknown directions just as life itself takes risks and is full of surprises. This may all sound rather highfalutin – the best-laid plans of mice and men and all that, but this album is a joy from beginning to end keeping the listener both entertained and interested throughout.
Most of the song titles are inspired by literary works The Sea the Sea is an Iris Murdoch novel for example. Apart from Dido’s Lament by Henry Purcell and Pretty Girl (Ellington/Strayhorn) the rest of the album songs are composed by either Beraha or Green. Green’s song Casual Incompetence could well become my theme tune.

Having seen this band live about a year ago (review here) I knew that I could expect fine musicianship and great collective playing and I was certainly not disappointed Beraha sings conventional lyrics and also improvises marvellously employing a complete range of different vocal sounds which adds further intrigue and surprise to proceedings. On the final number of the album Vie et Maree a poem by Max Jacob she uses spoken French.

The rhythm section is incomparable - delicate and subtle where necessary yet dynamic and fascinating when taking solos. In fact whilst making notes during listening I seemed to jot down after every track- rhythm section outstand great piano/bass/drum solo. The waves have certainly washed this delightful album ashore.
Steve H



26/06/2019 Alison Bentley, LondonJazzNews

When is the best time to record a new album? Babelfish waited till the end of their 2018 UK tour, and the quartet sounds completely at ease with their material. Their distinctive blend of jazz, classical and improvised music sounds relaxed, poised and full of creative risk-taking, this time full of literary influences.

The two pieces not written by Barry Green (piano) and Brigitte Beraha (vocals) come from the jazz and classical repertoires. Ellington/Strayhorn’s Pretty Girl (The Star-Crossed Lovers) based on Romeo and Juliet, is like being in another world where time slows down. The piano echoes and enhances the laid-back vocal line. Chris Laurence’s strong bass and the rustle of Paul Clarvis’ brushes interact subtly with the Bill Evans-esque piano solo. The harmonies of Purcell’s songs lend themselves well to a jazz-inflected treatment, evidenced by other European singers such as Leila Martial and Simone Severini. Babelfish’s version of Dido’s Lament is exquisite: the voice is sometimes breathy, sometimes soaring with dreamy clarity, while bringing the lyrics to life.

Green’s The Inspector and the Collector recalls Azimuth in its leaping wordless vocal- Norma Winstone and John Taylor have been an influence. The gentlest of backbeats develops; the groove skips some beats to reel you in. Green’s solo draws out his cantabile style- some notes are emphasised, some slurred, like a spoken language. You want to hear what he has to say. His composition City of Glass creates suspense musically, with its unpredictable time signature, and lyrically, as Beraha sings the opening lines from Paul Auster’s novel. “It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.” Dark insistent chords are sweetened by lyrical piano lines, till the bass starts to run urgently, as if chasing the piano over the rushing drum sounds. Green’s Casual Incompetence is anything but- a short, intense piece with a headlong bass groove and boppish drums, melting into free improv.

Beraha’s compositions are atmospheric and varied. The Book of Joy (based on stories by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu) has different sections, like different stories. She explores the possibilities of her voice: from vocal percussion and free expressive sounds, perhaps like Maggie Nicols, to laughter, deep drones and thoughtful melodies. You feel she’s waiting to see what will happen next, in a free section with exquisitely-toned percussion and laughter. The sinewy bass pedal pins the groove and the piano solo glows. There’s an affecting crackle in the voice as she sings: ”…heartbreak never breaks me…” Hobie’s lyrics are as complex (“…every piece tells a story…”) as the joyful tune- mostly in 5. The romantic Haven’t Met You Yet could almost be a Nick Drake song. A gentle piano riff keeps the surface glassy as the chords move underneath. Laurence’s solo seems to sing new melodies. The Sea, the Sea, inspired by Iris Murdoch’s novel, considers the sea’s mutability. In the slower parts, lilting Satie-sque chords roll like waves, as the piano explores the pulsing shape of the chords. Clarvis’ cymbals are like sea spray as the urgency builds: “waves crashing violently into those hidden rocks by the unexpected shore”. Max Jacob’s French prose poem Vie et marée (Life and tide) is partly sung and spoken in a kind of dreamy jazz sprechstimme, or a gently whispered Pierrot Lunaire (Schönberg.) Some phrases are sung as a jazz ballad, some have a stronger groove, and there’s a very lovely arco bass solo.

Once Upon a Tide is a beautiful and intriguing album, full of superb musicianship and thrilling improvisation. It has many moods, like the tide it describes.


11/06/2019 Stephen Graham, Marlbank

Babelfish, Once Upon a Tide, Moletone ****

Encounter Babelfish for the first time and you will be intrigued.

Landing somewhere in a jazz, folk, experimental space topped by the adventurous voice of Brigitte Beraha this is their third and most mature album.

Vocal jazz clichés there are none but their jazz roots are strong and Beraha gets great support from the Ian Shaw pianist Barry Green, veteran Chris Laurence on double bass and Paul Clarvis on drums.

Beraha has a big range of extra sounds, whether sighs, laughter or elaborate ornamentation that she dresses her lyrics with. Her style lands in the Norma Winstone heritage and like Winstone can stop you in your tracks with her quiet but devastating intent in the most unexpected places. Includes lots of originals plus a great version of the Ellington/Strayhorn standard ‘Pretty Girl (Star Crossed Lovers)’. SG



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