Nat Birchall ‘Creation’ CD (Sound Soul And Spirit) 5/5

nat-birchall“Creation” is the eighth album from saxophonist Nat Birchall. Released on his own Sound Soul And Spirit label, it is the latest in a line of wonderful, spiritual jazz albums to be released by the Manchester based musician, following up on last year’s incredible “Invocations” (Jazzman Records). The group assembled for this session features pianist Adam Fairhall, bassist Michael Bardon, and two drummers, Johnny Hunter and Andy Hay. Hunter featured on “Invocations”, alongside a percussionist, and although the use of two drummers may at first sound a little unusual, it does somehow feel like a natural progression for this recording. One might imagine the sound being too busy, or overly thought-out, but it actually works in quite the opposite way, with Hunter and Hay adding so much texture, colour and life to the overall sound, it becomes more obvious with every listen as to why Birchall chose to go with this option. Imagine Paul Motian and Jack DeJohnette trading ideas in a soulful, deep and spiritual way and you’d be close to getting the picture. Another key feature to this album is once again the inclusion of Birchall’s regular pianist Adam Fairhall. The connection Fairhall and Birchall seem to share is one of those rare musical partnerships that bares fruit each and every time the two get together. Birchall’s compositions are intense, yet very open, and the need for the musicians he works with to share a similar cosmic vibe is of paramount importance in helping take the music on with skill, confidence and freedom. Fairhall achieves all of this…and some, his understanding, empathy and virtuosity key to helping make the music what it is.

“Creation” has five tracks on it and is only 35 minutes in length. Put simply, it is a masterpiece. It is a triumph of music making; soulful, spiritual, contemplative, free, inspired, thought-provoking, challenging, captivating and ultimately uplifting. With so many musicians these days cramming as much music onto one album as possible, it is refreshing to hear a release that is what any album should be; a worthy statement or reflection of where the artist is at that moment in time. It shouldn’t matter how many tunes there are or how long the album is. What matters is that the music has a reason to be here, giving the listener an insightful and rewarding window into the life and music of the artist at that one moment in time as a complete picture. And this is exactly what we get with “Creation”.

All of the musicians involved on this session, recorded entirely in one day, share an obvious chemistry. Right from the off, on the wonderful opener “Love In The Cosmos”, the listener can hear, and practically touch the energy being created in the room. There’s a perfect balance between the two drummers, skilfully creative bass, mind-blowing piano, and of course, soaring, spiritual tenor sax. The resulting sound throughout the whole album takes the listener on an incredibly powerful journey, reaching heights that most music doesn’t come close to. It sounds effortless, yet at the same time you can sense the intensity and momentous effort that’s being put into the music. It comes from within, building up in layer upon layer like a rich tapestry weaved with musical magic, pushing to break out from the inner reaches of the soul, and then breaking free with vibrant colours and textures hitherto rarely experienced. “Love In The Cosmos”, as with most of Birchall’s tunes, relies heavily upon inspired improvisation from the band, and there’s no end to the magnificence of the collaborators on this recording. Yet the thing that also stands out here, is the natural beauty to the compositions themselves. Birchall excels in this area on all five tunes on “Creation”, creating the perfect musical backdrop for the band to improvise on. His direction and leadership is the key, and his own playing is quite simply on a different level. You can feel every breath through his passion and energy, his saxophone singing out with a gift of inner freedom so rarely heard since the legendary performances of John Coltrane. “Through The Darkness” sees the band developing the writer’s themes in exemplary fashion, charting new and exciting courses as they journey on. There’s a depth of beauty that is pure, simple, and stunning on the slower, more gentle “Peace Be Unto Us”. A shorter piece, it just wraps the listener up in its warmth and meditative kindness. “Ocean of Truth” seems to communicate an openness, a searching for the meaning of things, in a compassionate and fulfilling way. This tune features a wonderful bass solo from Michael Bardon, before setting off on its inner journey, with Birchall’s enigmatic sax once again charting its course, and Fairhall’s inventive piano responding with like-minded skill and virtuosity. “Light Of All Worlds” closes the album in uplifting style, with all of the musicians once more contributing in a collective way that lifts the spirits and raises awareness in a meaningful mind, body and spirit kind of way.

All of the tunes on “Creation” do seem to relate to one another, perhaps all being derived from creation itself – in a mindful and musical way. They share a unifying theme throughout the recording and indeed, from a personal perspective, I felt totally at one with the music being performed. It doesn’t get any better than that. To my mind, “Creation” is Nat Birchall’s masterpiece. Go get the album now and make your own mind up.

Mike Gates