Amir ElSaffar ‘Alchemy’ (PI) 4/5

Amir ElSaffarFans of spiritual jazz will be interested in this release on the ever innovative PI label. With a New York quintet featuring current in-demand pianist John Escreet as sideman, François Moutin on bass and leader Amir El Sak on trumpet, this album has definite shades of the mid-1960s Coltrane quintet in its prime and it is surely the latter that are the inspiration for the recording. The album comprises two main suites and the first of these, ‘Ishatarum’ includes the momentous ‘Five phases’ which begins with a languid bass line intro before the horns stress the main theme in unison. The floating ‘Nid Qablitum’ is a fine ensemble piece with Escreet occupying a secondary accompanying role and there is excellent solo work from tenorist Ole Mathisen. Evocative and eastern-tinged, ‘Embulum-Ishtarum-Pitum’ is almost eleven minutes in length and a definite album highlight. A second suite and album title track in its second part is notable for its offbeat rhythm pattern. Overall some of the pieces come across as early Ornette Coleman territory (aka his Contemporary Jazz period) and straddle be-bop with early freer elements including slower pieces such as the gentle sounding ‘Ballad’ which still manages to be experimental in format. Tim Stenhouse