Monday, January 18, 2016

Nat Birchall - Invocations (Jazzman Records, 2015)

British tenor saxophonist Nat Birchall has slowly built a following via his stirring concerts and performances that evoke the spiritual jazz of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. On the heels of the highly regarded Live in Larissa LP, he moves into the studio to record with Adam Fairhall on piano, Tim Fairhall on bass, Johnny Hunter on drums and Christian Weaver on percussion. “Invocations” opens the album with bass and piano and a dark tenor saxophone tone building up a to medium tempo speed. This leads to a pitched saxophone section before trailing off to a fine interlude for the rhythm section plus hand percussion. Birchall returns with a burnished and confident tone, navigating the thicket of the rhythm and leading the band through the conclusion. Bass, piano and shimmering cymbals set the stage for the dramatic entrance of Birchall’s saxophone on “Invocation” which is an appropriate title. He has an imperious tone to his tenor saxophone on this cut, building to overblowing before ceding the stage to the rhythm section that has a very nice feature, especially from Adam Fairhall who plays a fine rippling piano solo. Birchall returns moving to and fro developing a fierce and glaring solo that leads to a majestic finish. “To Be” finds the band digging deep with lonely spears of saxophone over a deep rhythmic background. The group is an a meditative state, probably as close to a ballad as they can, even adding some wordless chanting and authoritative saxophone which develops the music into a trance like state. Dark chocolate flavored tenor saxophone over rolling drums and percussion opens “Njozi (Vision)” before allowing the rhythm section another excellent period to express themselves, with the drums and percussion developing a potent feel to serve as a foundation for Birchall’s re-entry as he rolls out a strong and fast solo, expressing a very muscular sensibility, rising up to high pitches in the process. “A Luta Continua” concludes the album with haunted saxophone and very strong percussive sounds from the piano, bass and drums unit. They play very well throughout the album but especially here, heating the music up as Birchall comes back in for an exciting section of collective improvisation before the music slows back down again for its finale. This was a fine album, the band was excellent and both the solos and the collective playing were very good. The only pause for thought was the uncanny similarity between this album and the music of John Coltrane of the mid-1960’s. In particular the tone and presentation of Birchall’s saxophone playing is as close to the master’s as possible, and the compositions and arrangements evoke memories of Coltrane’s Crescent album. Much like Kasami Washington’s evocation of the spiritual jazz of the period on his recent album The Epic, this album shows that the music of the mid to late 1960’s, particularly the music of the Impulse label maintains a very strong reach. Invocations -

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