Nat Birchall ‘Mysticism Of Sound’ 180g Vinyl (Ancient Archive of Sound) 4/5

“Spiritual Jazz saxophonist, Nat Birchall, ditches loyal band members, steals daughter’s drumkit and unleashes a solo synth spectacular!” Read all about it here, on UKVibe!

Sun Ra loved a synthesiser; he was a Minimoog pioneer, the synth was an essential vocal vehicle on his celestial voyages. Nat Birchall? Not such a big fan (of synths, that is). Lockdown, however, has allowed Nat to revisit this view. He had to create during this period and, not having access to the wonderful musicians he normally communes with, he looked to do something a bit different, something solo…so he bought a Korg Minilogue analogue synth, nicked his daughter’s drumkit and allowed the spirit of Sun Ra to inspire him.

The, 47 second long, “Intro – Pyramidion” blesses us with gentle cascades of Nat and a brief introduction to the analogue shapes, shimmers and implied rhythms of the Minilogue that provides the cosmic backdrop throughout “Mysticism of Sound”.

“Cosmic Visitant” is hypnotherapy. The Minilogue sprinkles a mesmeric pattern, as bells shake and cleanse while the hand drum coalesces a rhythm section mantra. Nat’s tenor is reflective, patient; a monologue delivered by someone deeply comfortable in their own skin; not expecting (or needing) a response; not relying on emphasis or indulging in dynamics; seeing through steady confident eyes; a hypnotic reconnection to an altered state of consciousness.

“Mysticism of Sound” is a cosmic exploration. It hovers over planets and panoramas: to tranquilly go where no man has gone before. It has an otherworldly shimmer. It hopes to connect with new life and new civilisations but if not it continues to float, to see and feel other galaxies, orbs, entities; serenely exploring for the rest of time.

“Celestial Spheres” orbits on a walking bassline and cymbal ride. A simple, Space is the Supreme Loved Place tenor riff drops away to unveil a sax-charming Nat, benevolently guiding a sensual, sinewy dance.

“Space-time Vortex” benefits from some Sun Ra synth comping and a tentative, spiralling, morse code snare and cymbal. The tenor shifts from an enchanting, repeating and eventually descending, 4-note motif to a wavering, sauntering solo that momentarily frees itself before returning to its eddying core.

“Dance of the Sun God” is a hippish strut, posturing a please-don’t-look-beneath-the-surface cockyness. It evokes a fallible deity, one not as convinced of her own powers as the hagiographic scriptures might believe her to be. Or, maybe, she’s oblivious of her failings. It has a lovely, and lovable, ingenuous feel.

“Omniscient Beings” has an audible beating heart. It anxiously pants. The Minilogue has an 80s new-romantic artsy quality that, with the fine-grained layered sax, creates an unexpectedly Lynchian, eerie, nervous feeling that you’re being indifferently observed.

“Inner Pathway” opens with a two voiced sax part that introduces a self-awakened, self-compassionate, self-accepting, journey to being. It peacefully trots along its internal path with some delightful and lissome phrasing.

The sitar-meets-church organ Korg swathes “Outer Realms” with nocturne energy; gradually enveloping Nat’s beautifully pure, emotive playing with majestic dark skies and pinheads of hopeful starlight. The sax returns to fade with a cry into the infinite.

“Mysticism of Sound” may have had Sun Ra as a starting point but this is all Nat. His voice is more serene and less overtly political than Ra’s and being without his own Arkestra has enabled him to produce a remarkably centred performance. It has an insular feel that builds on a solid sense of self and expands, as always, into the metaphysical, the divine, the cosmic. It oscillates; animated by deep rhythm, both played and unplayed; the kind of natural rhythm of which the great Afrofuturist himself once said “I know exactly the rhythm that must animate my music, and only this rhythm is valid.”

Ian Ward