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Nat Birchall: Ancient Africa

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Nat Birchall: Ancient Africa
Tucked away in the rural north of England, and so doubly off the media radar, tenor saxophonist Nat Birchall is one of Britain's best kept secrets. His specialism is the strand of spiritual jazz pioneered by John Coltrane in the mid 1960s. Since the turn of the millennium, Birchall has released a string of albums ringing that bell with increasing resonance.

For a few years either side of 2010, Birchall was also part of trumpeter Matthew Halsall's fellow-travelling band, which was (and still is) centred around the northern city of Manchester.

It is, in 2021, perhaps no longer entirely accurate to describe Birchall as a secret, best kept or not, for over the past few years he and his quartet have released albums whose quality has obliged even the most London-centric British jazz observer to sit up and take notice. Among them are Cosmic Language (Jazzman, 2018) and The Storyteller: A Musical Tribute to Yusef Lateef (Jazzman, 2019). Had the pandemic not got in the way, the second of these, released just a few months shy of Lateef's 2020 centenary, would likely have created even bigger waves. On it, following in Lateef's footsteps, Birchall plays a panoply of reed and percussion instruments drawn from a global gazetteer of musical traditions.

Birchall adopts a multi-instrumentalist role on Ancient Africa, too. This time his hand was forced by lockdown restrictions which made the live-in-the-studio group sessions which he prefers pretty much impossible. On the album Birchall plays not just the reed and percussion instruments but the piano, bass and drums, too. He did much the same on 2020's Mysticism of Sound (Ancient Archive of Sound), but the latest album is more assured and the illusion of a real-time band better achieved. This time out the charts are also more ambitiously conceived, with Birchall sometimes creating a three-horn frontline by overdubbing tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone and bass clarinet. Ancient Africa is a beautiful piece of benign sleight of hand and will serve to keep Birchall's followers happy until he releases his next quartet album—and at the time of writing, the good news is that the band is playing together again.

Track Listing

Ancient Africa; Paladins; Mirror Mind; Song For John Blanke; Malidoma; Ancestral Dance.

Personnel

Nat Birchall: saxophone, tenor.

Additional Instrumentation

Nat Birchall: tenor and soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, piano, bass, percussion, gunibri.

Album information

Title: Ancient Africa | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Ancient Archive of Sound

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