Nat Birchall: Live In Larissa

Phil Barnes By

Sign in to view read count
Nat Birchall Quintet: Nat Birchall: Live In Larissa This limited double vinyl and download collection is a wonderful document of two nights that Birchall and his band played at the Duende Jazz Bar in Larissa during May 2013. The trip appears to have made an enormous impression on Birchall who commented shortly after returning that "I think our visit will become one of the defining experiences of my life..." drawing inspiration from people who were "the most spiritual, warm-hearted and generous I have ever met...."

The band that Birchall took to Greece was basically that which cut World Without Form in 2012 shorn of Andy Hay and Jon Thorne, leaving Paul Hession and Nick Blacka as the sole drummer and bassist respectively. Inevitably then 4 of the 7 compositions are taken from that set, the remainder being the title track from Birchall's previous album Sacred Dimension and two great covers that he had not previously recorded —Alice Coltrane's "Journey Into Satchidananda" and "John Coltrane" from Clifford Jordan's Glass Bead Games.

The covers are badges of influences that indicate starting points for a music that is often loosely characterized as cosmic or spiritual jazz. In Birchall's words the intention is that the music ..."transcends the notes, transcends the melody... transcend what's actually there on the face of it." When you set the bar that high it is more important than ever that the music be performed with concentration, passion and love—after all what is worse than an equivocal musical dedication to a deity or source of inspiration delivered with a shrug? Thankfully there are no such concerns here— there is a crackle and energy to opener "John Coltrane," principally from Nick Blacka's wonderful bass line and Birchall's ethereal sax, but also from the shouts and whoops from the sort of committed crowd that can push a great performance into being a truly memorable one.

The live setting has other benefits in allowing the Birchall originals to be significantly expanded upon from their studio incarnations. On pieces like "The Black Ark" the unrestricted time available gives the recording an extra edge, Birchall having the freedom to stretch out and elaborate upon his solo in the live setting that works remarkably well. Space is important and the interplay between Adam Fairhall's piano and the rhythm section of Blacka and Hession flourishes in it. "Return to Ithaca" is enhanced by the live setting Birchall's alto soaring above the Tyner- esque groove that underpins the piece with Corey Mwamba's vibes adding just the right amount of exotic atmosphere to what must have been a poignant moment playing this piece for a Greek audience.

Slower pieces such as "Sacred Dimension" typically start with a dedicatory theme and solo from Birchall before the rest of the band move in behind and take solos into free-er territory. As you might expect from such an experienced band, they sound comfortable with these excursions into complex improvisation, but somehow always keep things just the right side of melodic. This awareness of the listener allows you to be swept up in the music rather than kept at arms length as a passive spectator to emotionless technical virtuosity. It is also worth noting here that the clearer, warmer and more spacious stereo image of the vinyl mastering over the download is particularly beneficial in these free-er sections where identification of individual contributions is clearer. Should you choose to purchase the vinyl version a complimentary download is also provided.

The vinyl is a worldwide limited edition of only 500 copies and no CD is currently planned because funds do not allow. This appears to limit the audience for this fantastic music to the already committed—a great shame I think. Birchall has been treading this individual, idiosyncratic, path for some time now and deserves to be better known outside of our specialist jazz ghetto. Along with former label mate and occasional collaborator Matthew Halsall, he is proof that it is possible to thrive in even these difficult times if you stay true to the artistic inspiration and inclusive values that lead you to play in the first place. Live in Larissa is another triumph and a fitting record of what sounds like a wonderful couple of nights.

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.

Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Sound Soul And Spirit | Style: Modern Jazz

Related Video


More Articles

Read Alex Cline's Flower Garland Orchestra: Oceans of Vows Extended Analysis Alex Cline's Flower Garland Orchestra: Oceans of Vows
by John Kelman
Published: March 23, 2017
Read Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis: The Stone House Extended Analysis Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis: The Stone House
by John Kelman
Published: March 4, 2017
Read Jazz Is Phsh: He Never Spoke A Word Extended Analysis Jazz Is Phsh: He Never Spoke A Word
by Doug Collette
Published: March 3, 2017
Read Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight Extended Analysis Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight
by John Kelman
Published: February 19, 2017
Read Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon Extended Analysis Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon
by Doug Collette
Published: February 18, 2017
Read Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix) Extended Analysis Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix)
by John Kelman
Published: February 12, 2017
Read "The Beatles: Live At The Hollywood Bowl" Extended Analysis The Beatles: Live At The Hollywood Bowl
by Doug Collette
Published: September 11, 2016
Read "Dave's Picks Volume 20: CU Events Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO - December 9, 1981" Extended Analysis Dave's Picks Volume 20: CU Events Center, University...
by Doug Collette
Published: December 3, 2016
Read "Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight" Extended Analysis Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight
by John Kelman
Published: February 19, 2017
Read "Buddy Guy: Can't Quit The Blues" Extended Analysis Buddy Guy: Can't Quit The Blues
by Doug Collette
Published: September 3, 2016
Read "Akinola Sennon: Cousoumeh" Extended Analysis Akinola Sennon: Cousoumeh
by Nigel Campbell
Published: September 26, 2016
Read "Steve Reich: The ECM Recordings" Extended Analysis Steve Reich: The ECM Recordings
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: October 29, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus


Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!