Nat Birchall ‘Akhenaten’ CD (Gondwana) 4/5

With an almost identical line up to the Matthew Halsall release, multi-reedist Nat Birchall focuses on tenor sax here on an album devoted to the spiritual side of jazz. This is reflected in four lengthy compositions and in general, the ambience created recalls mid-period Coltrane from albums such as ‘Crescent’ and ‘A Love Supreme’. The laid back modal piece ‘Nica’s Dance’ opens the album and Birchall takes a restrained opening solo before engaging in some freer improvisation later. It is the uplifting mid-tempo title track that allows the group to stretch out and while pianist Adam Fairhall plays a vamp, trumpeter Halsall contributes a lovely solo. The album plays as a conceptual whole and ends with the lyrical and peaceful musical backdrop of ‘Many Blessings’, which takes a leaf out of the Alice Coltrane school of spirituality and features fine modal bass lines from Gavin Barras. Ideally, this writer would like to have heard more of the group in a full album context being pushed to the limit when in parts they sometimes feel inhibited, and in particular to hear Nat Birchall playing soprano sax which he does so well on the Matthew Halsall album. At least a couple of numbers featuring soprano would have ideally suited the mood of ‘Akhenaten’ and this kind of playing would work also in an Indo-jazz format. Excellent recording quality ensures clarity of sound. Another worthy release and one imbued with the spiritual feel of John Coltrane.

Tim Stenhouse