Nat Birchall Quintet – Live In Larissa ★★★★

Sound Soul And Spirit NB003 2LP Set – Nat Birchall (ts, ss, bells, shaker, tambourine), Adam Fairhall (p), Corey Mwamba (vibes, bells), Nick Blacka (b) and Paul Hession (d). Rec. 11-12 May 2013

For anyone who still believes in the transformative and inherently spiritual nature of jazz, most forcefully proposed by John Coltrane in the mid-1960s, there’s something enormously admirable about the path UK saxophonist Nat Birchall has dedicated himself to. Even the fact that his latest release is only available on heavyweight double vinyl (plus download option) ticks a few boxes. Birchall really means it. This sixth album – his first live release, recorded over two nights in the Duende Jazz Bar in Larissa, Greece – feels like his most sincere offering yet, with extended meditations on the two primary moods his compositions most commonly touch upon: pieces like ‘Divine Harmony’ are sensitive, free-shimmering tone poems with rolling, sighing percussion; while numbers such as ‘Return to Ithaca’ burrow into smouldering modal grooves that give pianist Adam Fairhall the chance to exercise his most strident and grandiloquent McCoy Tyner-isms. Actually, the whole ensemble of northern English allstars exudes a sense of exquisitely absorbed concentration, fully immersing themselves in long, searching solos. The album’s two longest cuts are both deep-jazz standards: a side-long vamp on Bill Lee’s ‘John Coltrane; and an impressively deep reading of Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey In Satchidananda.’ There aren’t many contemporary artists operating today who could get away with it. Birchall is undoubtedly one of them.

– Daniel Spicer


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