Brent Birckhead ‘BIRCKHEAD’ CD (Revive Music) 5/5

Released through Revive Music Group, saxophonist Brent Birckhead unveils his debut solo project ‘BIRCKHEAD’.

The multi-award winning musician, who can boast the accolades of being named best blues/pop/rock soloist and outstanding instrumental jazz soloist by Downbeat Magazine, and Best Alto Saxophonist by the Washington City Paper, can also cite years as a touring musician for artists including George Duke, Eric Benet, Larry Graham and Nas… as well as having performed in venues all over the world.

‘BIRCKHEAD’ sees the New York native collating those years of experiences and collaborations and pouring them into his newly-assumed role of band leader for this exciting new project. And it would appear the musicians assembled here – including guitarist Samir Moulay, pianist Mark Meadows, Romeir Mendez on bass, Carroll Dashiell on drums and trombonist Corey Wallace – are in more than capable hands. The album also benefits from the capable hands of producer Tariq Khan, record producer and founder of Brooklyn’s revered HighBreed Music.

Over the course of the album’s eleven tracks, Birckhead sets the course as he ably weaves between stories and themes of “the black experience”, family and one’s identity. The lush ‘Song For Nicole’ is the bold love letter to his wife while ‘The Ivory Antidote’ nods to the middle name that he shares with his grandfather. These themes are explored through an exciting presentation of jazz that doths its cap respectfully to a classic style and aesthetic while still being progressive and forging its own path.

The album concludes with the three-part “187 Suite” – a series of songs whereby their highly evocative titles really pave the way for masterfully composed and beautifully presented pieces of music. Each pose as powerful statements on the level of police brutality that horrifically engulfed the US over the past few years, and skilfully play out like the three stages of grief: ‘The Witching Hour’ represents the change in reality, that shock, that disbelief; ‘The Mourning After’ deals with experiencing that loss, be it through anger or depression, while ‘Someday We’ll All Be Free’ – a cover of Donny Hathaway’s 1973 classic (a song in itself adopted as an anthem for the civil rights movement) – acts as the perfect glimmer of hope that sits at the bottom of Pandora’s Box and the perfect closing number.

Legendary jazz pianist Bill Evans once said, “Art should teach spirituality by showing a person a portion of himself that he would not discover otherwise”. It’s a beautiful quote and one that expresses a passion for music that you ultimately lose yourself within. Evans did also say at a separate time, “I had to work harder at music than most cats because you see, I don’t have much talent”. Clearly anyone familiar with Evans’s music knows that the latter albeit humble statement regarding his own ability couldn’t possibly be accurate but the former certainly provides more food for thought… Perhaps when considering the work of any other project this statement would hold water but when considering the music on ‘BIRCKHEAD’, there’s really nothing here that presents an artist unsure of themselves or an artist in need of any level of self-discovery. ‘BIRCKHEAD’ is a statement of intent; the music presented on this album is Brent Birckhead using his art to declare precisely who he knows he is and it’s as sure and confident a piece of work as I’ve heard in some time.

Imran Mirza