In the infinite wisdom of God, it was probably inevitable that the paths of both Camille Bertault and David Helbock would cross in their lifetime. Both artists, when at the peak of their powers – which is almost always – are possessed of breathtakingly inventive artistry. Once an Internet sensation, Mlle Bertault was bound to be recocgnised sooner or later. Mr Helbock is already a sensation in his Europe and the world is fast getting wind of his genius.
Mlle Bertault has taken custody of her airways, which, when deployed by her febrile brain issue the most extraordinary vocalastics that she is – quite literally – a once in a lifetime one-of-a-kind. As she was relatively new at the game, one was not fully aware of what is, indeed, her prodigious gift for music. Magically, on the album Playground she sings a lyric straight through, with just as much ingenuity as she scats her way through a song with uncommon invention. Mr Helbock is a more seasoned campaigner and has proved his mettle by making is way through many a musical trench. His is an insolent virtuosity, which is to say that his pianism is wholly irreverent. Melodic lines, harmonic variations and rhythmic patterns are often turned on their heads – but not simply so – but with a delightful audacity that stops the breath of many an unsuspecting listener.
Put these two artists in a studio – or on stage, as the YouTube video suggests – and some of the most extraordinary music ensues. Bold inventors may often make music that may not sound sweet to the ear, especially when the inventions are airborne – or to be more exact, made from rarefied air. And when you read [as you will from the credits below] that “live-looping” and “effects” are employed to make music the results can be quite a live-wire act, not necessarily conventionally pleasing to an ear tuned to what is harmoniousness in musical culture – especially European music culture.
But the impossible intervallic leaps – that too with legato and staccato – that Mlle Bertault makes in the course of executing a vocal melody make for a jaw-dropping listening experience. The melodic lines make breathtaking elliptical arcs. These collide with equally audacious piano-gymnastics indulged by Mr Helbock. Often this feels like having one’s heart stopped by a high-wire act under a Big Top. But you never get the sense that this is some kind of nonsensical activity even when the tried and tested scat-singing gestures are employed by the former [and some other kind of high-jinx is employed by the latter. Every leap lands right where you never expect it to, yet everything seems faultless. [Consider the Brasilian opening, Egberto Gismonti’s musically diabolical Frevo].
Mr Helbock matches each expressively risqué move by Mlle Bertault measure-for-measure [cue Mr Helbock’s Lonely Superman]. His pianism is stylish, urbane and eloquently lyrical. The Scriabin item is monumental. Mlle Bertault’s interpretation of Björk’s New World is, likewise, extraordinary. The duo’s rendition of Thelonious Monk’s Ask Me Now is spacious, noble… and heart-stopping. In sum, this extraordinary recording is full of juicy jazzy brilliance. Nothing is forced or exaggerated or overly mannered; tempos, invention and balance – all seem effortlessly and intuitively right. Vocals, piano and electronic recording is lucid and utterly complementary. An album to absolutely die for…
Tracks – 1: Frevo; 2: Good Morning Heartache; 3: Lonely Superman; 4: Étude in C-sharp minor Op. 2, No. 1; 5: Aide-moi; 6: New World; 7: Das Fabelwesen; 8: Dans ma boîte; 9: Ask Me Now; 10: Never Lived; 11: Bizarre; 12: Para Hermeto
Musicians – Camille Bertault: voice and lyrics [except on 2]; David Helbock: piano, percussion, live loping and effects
Released – 2022
Label – ACT Music [9951-2 ACT]
Runtime – 52:21