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Nat Birchall: Obeah Man

Chris May By

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Welcome to the latest analog-era time warp... the vinyl revival has rebirthed the 45rpm seven-inch jazz single. The format faded away in the 1960s. Even back then, chart hits such as Stan Getz's "Desafinado" (Verve, 1962) were freak events, but before the coming of album playing FM radio stations, an edited version of an album track could be powerful promo on mainstream radio—and as Bob Weinstock, founder of the Prestige label, told an interviewer in 1959, "The four best promo tools are radio, radio, radio and juke boxes. In that order."

The 2019 jazz single is partly a fun, retro thing, partly a promo thing. Either way, spiritual-jazz musicians are in the forefront of the trend, here in Britain anyway. Saxophonist Nat Birchall released his first single, "Tunji" backed with "Mode For Trane," on Jazzman's subsidiary label Jazz45 in July 2018. Exactly a year later, he has released another, "Obeah Man" backed with "Seeking," on the same label. Earlier in July 2019, drummer Nick Woodmansey released "Vibes From The Tribe" backed with "Version Vibes" featuring his band Emanative and US trombonist Phil Ranelin, a fundraising initiative on the specially formed Steve Reid Foundation label (Woodmansey helms the foundation).

Birchall has a new album expected on Jazzman later in 2019, a 2xLP set marking the twentieth anniversary of his first album, The Sixth Sense (Sixth Sense). The new single provides a tasty hors d'oeuvre. The band is the same as on Birchall's last album, the outstanding Cosmic Language (Jazzman, 2018). The two sides are up-tempo stormers whose combined seven-and-a-half minutes playing time includes stirring tenor and soprano solos from Birchall and two-fisted piano choruses from Adam Fairhall, with hard-driving accompaniment from bassist Michael Bardon and drummer Andy Hay.

As always, Birchall's quartet is grounded in the aesthetic of John Coltrane's classic quartet while bringing some surprises to the party. On Cosmic Language one of these was Fairhall's doubling-up on harmonium. On the new single it is Hay's use of the berimbau. Bring on the album.

Track Listing: A Side: Obeah Man. B Side: Seeking.

Personnel: Nat Birchall: tenor and soprano saxophones; Adam Fairhall: piano; Michael Bardon: acoustic and electric bass; Andy Hay: drums, berimbau.

Title: Obeah Man | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Jazzman Records

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