Saxophonist and composer Tyrone Birkett's early output, particularly his In the Fullness of Time
(Convergence Records, 2006) was dangerously close to the over-sentimental, syrupy and innocuous sounds of (gasp!) smooth jazz. What kept the record from falling over into that, much maligned, genre was Birkett's superlative improvisational chops and his robust devotional sense. On his sophomore release as a leader Post Modern Spirituals: The Promised Land
both of these attributes are at the forefront leaving any flirtations with instrumental pop behind.
The spirituality of Birkett's music is different from the metaphysical universality of saxophonist John Coltrane
and his acolytes and is distinct from primal, sacred harmonies of such 1970s labels as the legendary Strata East
. Birkett's is rooted in the more mainstream and historically rich gospel heritage that goes back to the dawn of African-American history.
The reinterpretation of the traditional "Sometimes I Fell Like a Motherless Child" dubbed "Motherless Child Revisited" features Birkett's wife and singer Paula Ralph-Birkett
's clear, soaring voice that adorns the lyrics with agile scatting. Pianist Gregory Royals
supports Ralph-Birkett's haunting singing with thick, chant like chords. Her husband takes an explorative solo revisiting some of the same motifs as the vocalist and concludes the tune with hypnotically alternating refrains with her.
Birkett duets with his spouse on the stirring and funk infused "Strength." His passionate saxophone is as emotive as her dramatic singing and embellishes the main theme cleverly with an occasional honk and growl. Their concluding dialogue evolves over drummer Camille Gainer Jones
, rollicking beats, keyboardist Pablo Vergara
's sparkling notes and bassist Reggie Young
's electrifying reverberations.
The momentum does slack a bit as repetitiousness permeates some of the tracks like the undulating "Deep River" with its saccharine tones and the softly lilting "Freedom Dreaming" with its overly mellifluous melancholy. Birkett closes the album, however, with a robust demonstration of his creative energy. The intricately constructed, slow tempo "The Promise" features bassist John Benitez
's pizzicato strings punctuating Ralph-Birkett's ethereal vocals like cool raindrops on a roof. Vergara follows with a cascade of acoustic piano leading to Birkett's intriguing and inventive turn in the spotlight.
Over a period of eight years Birkett's work has matured and he has developed a unique style. This cohesive and delightful disc is a testament of that evolution. Despite a few weak spots Post Modern Spirituals: The Promised Land
is a stimulating and sincere expression of superb musicianship and deep passion.
Track Listing: The Departure; The Struggle; The Postmodern Spiritual; Motherless Child (Revisited); Strength;
Deep River; Freedom Dreaming; The Promise.
Personnel: Tyrone Birkett: saxophones, keyboards, spoken word; Paula Ralph Birkett: vocals; Gregory
Royals piano, organ; Reggie Young: electric bass; Jason Patterson: drums; Pablo Vergara
piano; electric keyboards; Camille Gainer Jones: drums; John Benitez: acoustic bass; Benny