Just outside the Victorian architectural splendor of the city of Manchester lies some of England's most beautiful countryside. The area is home to a small group of musicians whose contemporary take on the music of John Coltrane
and Pharoah Sanders
, among others, is creating some of the finest and most spiritual sounds around. Trumpeter Matthew Halsall
, head of Gondwana Records, is one member of this group. Nat Birchall is a key figure, and Sacred Dimension
, his fourth album, finds the saxophonist/composer combining Coltrane influences with the stark beauty of the Lancashire moors to create an exquisitely engaging recording.
Coltrane and Saunders are not Birchall's only spiritual and musical inspirations: reggae is also a major passion and was the music that initially inspired him to play the saxophone. Sacred Dimension
has little obvious reggae influence in its sound, but the overall atmosphere of the albumthe relaxed rhythmic grooves, the seemingly effortless engagement with the soul of the musiccertainly shows an affinity for the genre's classic vibe.
Birchall's band is absolutely in tune with his style. Harpist Rachael Gladwin and pianist Adam Fairhall
, both crucially important to the sound of Birchall's Guiding Spirit
(Gondwana Records, 2010), make delicate and thoughtful contributions. Nick Blacka and Andy Hay add strong and muscular bass and drums without ever overpowering the lead players. Vibraphonist Corey Mwamba
may be used sparingly, but he enhances the dynamics of the music with every note.
"Peace In Nineveh" flows gracefully, with Birchall's sinewy soprano saxophone, Fairhall's dexterous piano and Mwamba's sparky vibes weaving delightful patterns of sound over Blacka's hypnotic bass. "Radiant Will" (a title inspired by a Stanley Crouch article about Coltrane) and the title track showcase Birchall's free-flowing, warm and tender tenor sound, while both "Ancient World" and "Dance Of The Mystic" are filled with magical imagery. Individually these are five delightful tunes; together, they make Sacred Dimension
into a truly impressive, and beautiful, album.