Nat Birchall ‘Cosmic Language’ LP/CD (Jazzman) 5/5

Undoubtedly one of the most innovative saxophonists on the UK jazz scene, Nat Birchall’s latest release on Jazzman Records follows in the footsteps of his previous outings, providing the listener with his trademark spiritual jazz offerings, taking in influences from some of the great forebears like John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane and Yusef Lateef. “Cosmic Language” features the same tight-knit group of collaborative musicians that appear on the saxophonist’s previous sessions; Adam Fairhall, Andy Hay and Michael Bardin. The obvious difference here though, is that pianist Fairhall switches to the Indian Harmonium, giving the whole album even more spiritual context, accentuating cross-cultural sensibilities.

The idea for this album was spawned from a one-off performance at a meditation centre. Seeking to bring a band set-up that was fitting to the quiet-minded setting, Birchall brought the harmonium with him to the concert instead of piano. Building on the spiritual context of the show, and the associations of that instrument, it led naturally to the musical approach undertaken on this album. The resulting recording we have here can quite simply be summed up as ‘musical enlightenment’.

Birchall has a longstanding interest in creating resonant moods or feelings through his work, and with the inspired use of the harmonium, it allows the musicians to take cues from the Indian raga tradition. Put simply, ragas are a set of modes, or melodic structures, which run back to the early origins of Indian music. Each one is made up of a set of notes considered to colour a composition in a particular hue, or to impart a certain kind of mood. Birchall and co celebrate this tradition, whilst still maintaining their own unique vision and clarity.

There are just four tracks on the aptly named “Cosmic Language”, with each tune being slightly different in essence whilst remaining natural to the whole. This is something I personally find very satisfying about Birchall’s albums, they all share a flow of energy from start to finish. Individual tracks can be just that; individual, but there is always a plan, with an exploratory sensitivity that takes the listener on an incredibly absorbing journey that is always creatively innovative yet well-balanced.

It can’t be stated enough how well the musicians gel on this recording. A meeting of minds that allows the channelling of a universal language that embodies all the elements of a spiritual loving-kindness through the music that is being created.

As Birchall says; “The whole act of making music is a spiritual experience. It’s during performance and when playing music that I look for a kind of truth. It’s with music where I find myself closest to attaining that ‘enlightened’ kind of feeling. On rare occasions I’ve actually felt as though I was listening to the music being played rather than being involved in making it, almost like an out-of-body experience.” Birchall continues to shine as a musician who is true to himself, bringing heartfelt joy to this listener’s ears. And you can’t ask for much more than that.

Mike Gates