Sunday, May 27, 2018

Nat Birchall - Cosmic Language (Jazzman Records, 2018)

Tenor saxophonist, and percussion player Nat Birchall has been unapologetically carrying the torch of mid to late sixties  John Coltrane, combining the post-bop, free and spiritual strains of jazz over several excellent albums. This album moves in a new direction, exploring the melding of jazz and Indian music, something that also interested Coltrane greatly toward the end of his life. This album also features Michael Bardon on bass, Andy Hay on drums and percussion and Adam Fairhall on harmonium. It is this last instrument, the harmonium, that plays a key role on this album, establishing ringing drones that the other instruments can anchor themselves to as they take flight on their improvisations. The album opens with "Man From Varanasi" setting a vibe that is a clear update of the exploratory jazz recorded on the Impulse! label in the late sixties and early seventies, with the harmonium getting a massive and otherworldly drone as a strong spiritual current runs through the performance. Birchall's deep and resonant tenor saxophone is well suited to this setting and his solo is an integral part of this long and ever evolving improvisation. "Humility" has raw saxophone circling the ringing drone, held fast by thick and elastic bass playing and drums that develop a deep rhythmic sensibility. The leader's saxophone grows in intensity and volume as the piece progresses, echoing the great Coltrane/Sanders performances amidst huge slabs of keyboard and and roiling drums that focus the spiritual jazz vibe of the performance, initiating an exotic rhythmic feel that includes bowed bass in its deeply flowing texture. Saxophone and harmonium rise up and harmonize and then circle one another ecstatically as drums and bass roll underneath. The near-Eastern drone and percussion instruments continue to set the pace on "A Prayer For" with the saxophone shining brightly like the rising sun. Clattering percussion complicates the rhythm with deep strong bass playing adding to the appearance and consistency of music which is of great substance. The keyboard playing boils like molten lava, paving the way for the saxophone to re-enter in a majestic fashion and escalate into well integrated interplay with the rest of the band, building to a memorable collective improvisation that has a great deal of spontaneity and dynamic shifting. "Dervish" concludes the album with a huge droning chord and slashing percussion, with the stoic bass and saxophone evoking a release of the building tension, as the music rolls forth like a wave. They rhythm section keeps the groove going as the saxophone steps aside, building a near psychedelic cacophony, that gets even more intense with Birchall's re-entry, scouring the music with powerfully played saxophone, bringing the band together for a raw and vital conclusion with fierce determination. This album worked quite well, and is a natural progression in Birchall's questing nature as a musician and improviser, clearing a path for future exploration. Cosmic Language - amazon.com

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