Julia Biel ‘Black and White Vol.1’ LP/CD (Rokit) 5/5

The immeasurably talented Julia Biel unveils her brand new, and incredibly personal, project ‘Black and White, Volume 1’.

Having established herself as something of a celebrated and leading indie jazz champion, Biel’s fourth album release sees her music presented within a more stripped down and intimate setting pairing her unmistakable vocal with the black and white keys of a piano over the course of eleven songs. Dipping into tracks from her previous releases, the project provides an exciting new dimension to past gems including ‘The Wilderness’ and ‘Diamond Dust’ from ‘Julia Biel’ (2018), ‘Little Girl’ from ‘Love Letters and Other Missiles’ (2015) and ‘Shhh…’ from ‘Not Alone’ (2011).

And hers is a stunning catalogue to dip into. Having won the Perrier Vocalist of the Year Award in 2000, Julia Biel went on to unveil her first full-length in 2005 with the album ‘Not Alone’ (co-written with Oriole’s Jonny Philips) which subsequently went on to see her nominated for the Rising Star award in the BBC Jazz Awards in 2006. Now paired with long-time collaborator, and partner, producer and bassist Idris Rahman, ‘Love Letters and Other Missiles’ and the self-titled album followed in 2015 and 2018, respectively, solidifying Biel’s unending talents as a vocalist, songwriter, producer and musician, and her dynamic, all-encompassing approach to jazz.

New Julia Biel projects will always be cause for celebration. Any listener fortunate enough to have caught either of her last three albums will attest to the devotion she has for her craft – an inimitable and exquisite vocal coupled with intricate penmanship that can be as sharp and cutting (‘You Could Turn a Rainbow Grey’) as it can be warm and affectionate; tagging that to a seasoned live performer who always delivers an always impassioned set and it all contributes to a sincere and fairly remarkable artist. And one never afraid to try new things – as well as past collaborations with Everything But The Girl’s Ben Watts, Hidden Orchestra, Oriole, Lautrec and of course as the long-standing vocalist for reggae/afrobeat collective, Soothsayers, there was also the release of the ‘Licence to be Cruel’ remix EP back in 2015 which opened the door to past recordings being taken in completely new directions at the hands of electronic and dance producers including Son Lux, Wu-Lu, Other Worlds, Triptyc and Yes King.

‘Black and White’ may perhaps not be as drastic a change of pace as ‘Licence to be Cruel’ but certainly proves to be an incredibly bold step when considering the deconstruction of some of these songs – the ethereal quality of ‘Say It Out Loud’ translates beautifully as does ‘Little Girl’ which, originally housed on ‘Love Letters and Other Missiles’ as a guitar-heavy dalliance into Nigel Godric and Radiohead territory, further proves to be a testament to Biel’s abilities as even through just her vocal and the keys at her fingers, she manages to hold on to the song’s brash energy.

Since delving into this project, there’s a quote from Nina Simone that has really resonated with me when weighing up the very nature of ‘Black and White’ and the inspiration behind the project: “Did you know that the human voice is the only pure instrument? That it has notes no other instrument has? It’s like being between the keys of a piano. The notes are there, you can sing them, but they can’t be found on any instrument. That’s like me. I live in between this. I live in both worlds, the black and white world.”

Imran Mirza

LIVE DATES:

Mar 26 – Streatham Space Project London, UK
Apr 24 – Kulturzentrum Schlachthof Bremen, Germany