on 19 September 2015
Nat Birchall is an artist most usually described as further developing the sound and power of John Coltrane (1926 - 1967), which, of itself, might be considered a comparison of extreme worth. Even so, whilst recognising an influential and inherent truth, this fails to to recognise the true value of his artistry and the forging of a new musical legacy, respectful of the past, yet alive to musical narratives and possibilities extending beyond the spiritual and temporal moments available to Coltrane.
Many would regard 'A Love Supreme' (ALS) (1965) as the most coherent exposition of Coltrane's individual spiritualism, perhaps influenced by exposure to the mysticism of Ahmadiyyism, a controversial sect with Islam (founded in India in 1889), and a Sufism encompassing engagement with God in manifest forms and modes of existence and expression. The impact of a coherent and sustained musical narrative within Jazz, represented by ALS can not be underestimated, yet the very fact of Birchall's talent and confidence in undertaking a similarly orientated narrative is noteworthy. Given such a contextual background, how does 'World Without Form' fare?
'World Without Form' opens with shifting piano and drums, over which the singularly authoritative saxophone weaves beguilingly. Attempting to diverge from, yet being a part of the chaos underneath, the piece powerfully recalls the institution of the Biblical 'Logos' and the situating of a point of musical origin and creation. 'The Black Ark' begins as a muscular intimation, propelled by the bass and underlying, swinging rhythmic shifts in sound, moving from one musical mode of being to another. 'Dream Of Eden' offers an immediately available moment of repose, melodically reflective yet swaying, perhaps suggesting the mythical lost point of bliss. The piano notes hit and play upon a lateral line, yet evoke a questioning that remains powerfully present. Moreover, each musician is given the space and freedom to move and shift above the central musical modal foundation. It is, quite simply, beautiful.
'Divine Harmony' continues the narrative thrust of 'Dream Of Eden', moving and questioning above and through the musical textuality presented underneath, with no easy resolution. In contrast , 'To Speak To Us Of Love' offers a traditionally orientated and affirmative exposition of music, expressing a rare joy in music not easily articulated. 'Return To Itacha' offers, perhaps, a moment of textual imposition, recalling Odysseus' return home from the trials described by Homer, a further return (perhaps) to the question of origins, comfort and love. 'Principle Of Beauty' opens with confident saxophone playing, with a romantically inclined drive. Yet this is music that offers no easy melodic resolution, constantly progressing and moving, apparently resisting an easy grounding or reduction to a singular mode of expression.
So. Do you buy?
To describe Birchall's music through a comparative reduction with John Coltrane would be musically moribund, this is fiercely alive music produced in a full and respectful consciousness of Jazz history. As a consequence it avoids the temptation to include elements seen with increasing frequency in much modern Jazz exposition, differences perhaps explained by cultural and social context. Instead Birchall appears concerned to articulate an honest engagement and consideration away from the material and contemporary - exploring and expressing the ever present question of the spiritual and elusive beyond. 'World Without Form' does not pretend to offer a definitive answer, this openness makes the contribution to an eternal question ever more valid.
Engaging, challenging, and clearly questioning the limits of the temporal, this recording will reap rewards by way of repeated listening. As it states in the liner notes, '[...] love always to the good hearted people around the world'.
Another fine addition to Birchall's catalogue.