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Nat Birchall Quintet: Live In Larissa

Bruce Lindsay By

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Two shows on the tiny stage of the Duende Jazz Bar in Larissa, Greece, in May 2013, form the basis for the Nat Birchall Quintet's Live In Larissa: a live album that provides a welcome and impressive addition to Birchall's discography.

Birchall, a master of soprano and tenor saxophones who's based in the north west of England, has long been inspired by the music and spirituality of John Coltrane. The appearance here of Bill Lee's "John Coltrane" and Alice Coltrane's "Journey In Satchidananda" serves to underline this inspiration—both tunes get sympathetic, beautifully-judged, performances from all five band members.

The remaining tunes, all Birchall's own compositions, have previously appeared on Sacred Dimension (Gondwana Records, 2011) or World Without Form (Sound, Soul and Spirit, 2012). These live recordings offers extended versions, giving the players a chance to stretch out and delve deeper into the tunes. It's a chance that each player grabs eagerly. Birchall himself and vibes player Corey Mwamba demonstrate a rare level of creativity and emotional engagement. On "The Black Ark" both the leader's tenor and Mwamba's vibes burst with energy. On "Sacred Dimension" the tenor becomes a much gentler instrument—pianist Adam Fairhall reflects this gentler sound in his own solo, with both players using the full ranges of their instruments to express their connection with the spirituality of the music.

Despite apparent problems with microphone placement the sound quality is generally high. On "John Coltrane," however, Mwamba's beautiful vibes solo sits low in the mix, almost overwhelmed by Nick Blacka's bass. It's a minor criticism and should be tempered by stating that the review copy of Live In Larissa was on CD, while the album will only be commercially available as a download or on a double vinyl album (Birchall's preferred format).

Live recordings can distinguish themselves from studio projects merely by the addition of a few more extended solos from the lead player. Not on Live In Larissa. Each tune grows from the contributions of each player—Birchall's confident decision to open the tunes up in this fashion is repaid time and time again to create an exceptional live album.

Track Listing: John Coltrane; Divine Harmony; Return To Ithaca; Journey In Satchidananda; World Without Form; The Black Ark; Sacred Dimension.

Personnel: Nat Birchall: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, bells, shaker, tambourine; Adam Fairhall: piano; Corey Mwamba: vibes, bells; Nick Blacka: bass; Paul Hession: drums.

Title: Live In Larissa | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Sound Soul And Spirit

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