The four members of Babelfish are adept at springing surprises from diverse directions, but they've become a close-knit chamber group without losing any personal quirks. Their eponymously titled debut album united the word-class rhythm section of bassist Chris Laurence and drummer Paul Clarvis, imaginative pianist Barry Green, and the subtle vocals and cool accuracy of Brigitte Beraha. Their repertoire took in modern poetry, contemporary classical music, standard songs, freebop and Latin music. Live, they sound as if their collective reflexes are even sharper now than when that fine album was made.
The ostensibly sketchy but rock-solid foundation provided by Laurence and Clarvis is crucial to liberating Beraha and Green. The drummer, playing a minimal kit, which promoter Brian Blain opined must be the property of a four-year-old, reverses the usual drums-bass dynamics: on the Latin opener in which Beraha wordlessly improvised in a light-stepping Flora Purim- like manner, Clarvis quietly fluttered , scurried, tickled and tapped, while Laurence delivered plummy pizzicatos and sensuous note bends.
In Ned Rorem's Poem for F, Beraha gave his jealous lyrics an unsettlingly whimsical lightness; and the standard song, This Heart Of Mine, began with an airy looseness, but revved up when Clarvis for the first time swapped sticks for brushes. Green's classical phrasing curled round Beraha's own wistful lyrics in The Apple Tree, and Kirk Bats was an uptempo rattle of piano hooks, bass counter-melodies, and crackling rimshots, which steadily pushed Beraha from graceful serves to startled cries. Green was in Bill Evans mode in Alec Wilder's While We're Young, and a short suite in French by Beraha, passed through a Latin glide, bebop for piano and voice, and a free-floating finale.
Babelfish might often be low key, but they're never subdued.