Coming less than a year after the 2015 release Invocations on Henley's Jazzman records, Creation finds Nat Birchall back on his own Sound Soul and Spirit label. Long term collaborator Adam Fairhall on piano, and Johnny Hunter on drums are retained from that record and we welcome back Randy Hayes as a second drummer, last heard on 2011's 'Sacred Dimension' as well as saying hello to new boy Michael Bardon on bass.
Whether influenced by the line-up changes or simply the direct impact of the compositions themselves, the intensity level of the playing is heightened this time around. Given Birchall's long track record of heartfelt, soulful and uplifting music it is tempting to over interpret and read too much into his intentions with pieces like thesefor example it feels as though the tracks are sequenced to take the listener through an ultimately uplifting journey. So opening track "Love in the Cosmos" could be read as a statement of the universe 'before,' stretching through the portrayal of the violence of creation in second piece "Through the Darkness" before a state of grace is achieved in "Peace Be Unto Us." The remaining two tracks "Ocean of Truth" and "Light of all Worlds," that make up side 2 of the vinyl version, feel more like an exploration of a more settled spiritual state. Probably only Birchall and his band would be able to tell us for sure, but it would be a terrible disappointment if it turned out that the album theme was about nothing more spiritual than dissatisfaction with public transport in the Greater Manchester area.
Birchall's declamatory opening statement on "Love in the Cosmos" releases a solo from Fairhall solo where the pianist sounds transported out of this realm. The impact of the double drummers is important, with each occupying a separate speaker of the soundstage, enabling live panning across the stereo image without studio trickery. More generally it allows emphasis, atmosphere and movement to be added throughout. "Through the Darkness," is the most intense of the compositionsFairhall's piano riding the percussive waves, until the crisis passes as Birchall leads the piece home in the final section. For all of the incendiary playing on these pieces, this remains very much in the theme/solos/theme jazz structure that gives a satisfying resolution to the crises in the music. The soothing balm of "Peace Be Unto Us" ends what would be the first side of the LP record on a gentle, reflective note and contains some of Birchall's most soulful playing. Mention too should be made of the great moment in "Ocean of Truth" where Birchall feeds in around the monumental bass line laid down by Michael Bardon.
This is music from the soul, made with a spiritual intent because it simply could be no other way. Creation is another fine album in an unbroken string that Birchall has produced since 2009's Akhenaten. The only potential issue here is that he now has a discography of such a formidable quality and almost routine brilliance that new listeners may feel intimidated. While the uninitiated might best be directed to the extended playing time of the mighty Live in Larissa, where Birchall perhaps best showcases the range of his music, "Creation" refines and develops the creative path taken by this fine musician. We can only hope that some of those drawn to jazz by the deserved success of Kamasi Washington's The Epic in 2015 will be prepared to delve a little deeper into this music and that Birchall and others like him will experience an upsurge in interest as a result. Those of us already familiar with Birchall's work know that no recommendation is necessary.
Love in the Cosmos; Through the Darkness; Peace Be Unto Us; Ocean of Truth;
Light of All Worlds.
Nat Birchall: tenor & soprano saxophones, bells, shakers, tambourine; Adam
Fairhall: piano; Michael Bardon: bass; Johnny Hunter: drums (left channel); Andy
Hay: drums, percussion (right channel).
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