Reviews for ‘World Without Form’

Jazz Journal ( March 2013 )

Nat Birchall ‘World Without Form’  ( Sound Soul And Spirit )

The Mancunian saxophonist Nat Birchall once again hits the sweet spot between Charles Lloyd and John Coltrane with this, his second ( sic ) release as leader. Trading tough with tender, sentimentality with soul-baring honesty, Birchall wrapped my ears around his little finger in this lovely set. Song titles like Dream Of Eden and Divine Harmony are a clue to where Birchall gets his inspiration and as sideman to modal horn player Matt Halsall, he’s perfected a blissed out, transcendental approach to jazz that involves bells and shakers. His own sidemen work less like a rhythm section and more like a beautifully constructed tidal barrier that opens and closes with the leader’s flood of ideas. World Without Form is a beautiful, life-affirming album: a legal high even. Just don’t operate heavy machinery while listening to it.  Garry Booth.


Nat Birchall, World Without Form ( Sound Soul And Spirit )

Fifth recording from surging tenor man Nat Birchall. Rounds out a quintet with a strong line-up of Adam Fairhall on piano, Corey Mwamba on vibes, Nick Blacka on bass, and Paul Hession on drums (plus some guests). Birchall’s previous recordings fully embraced the early free jazz sound of John Coltrane and, later, the spiritual rich jazz of Alice Coltrane. Elements of both are present on this recording, but added to the mix are hints of Clifford Jordan’s Magic Triangle recordings. For instance, tone and phrasings on “The Black Ark” share traits with Jordan’s spin on the burgeoning free jazz movement of the 60s/70s, when he charted a course away from the blinding ferocity and toward a sound imbued with a distant warmth and ominous mystery. References aside, Birchall’s ensemble is solid proof that Jazz’s lifespan will continue on for another generation. Recommended. Dave Sumner


The Independent On Sunday

Nat Birchall, World Without Form ( Sound Soul And Spirit )

In a scene dominated by jazz graduates who are fluent in the language but don’t have much to say, the music of saxophonist Birchall – who came to Coltrane via reggae’s Cedric Brooks – screams “Belief!”

This latest release invests spiritual jazz with a personal vision evoking space and soul. Doubling up bass and drums creates a thicker sound, with roles for Corey Mwamba, Jon Thorne and Paul Hession. Regular pianist Adam Fairhall is a total star.
Phil Johnson


All About Jazz ( December 2012 )

Nat Birchall ‘World Without Form’ (Sound Soul And Spirit)

In a world that often seems bereft of any sense of spirituality it’s good to know that performers like saxophonist Nat Birchall are still true to the spirituality of music. Birchall, based in the northeast of England, continues to create beautiful, soulful, music on his fifth album as leader, World Without Form, in the company of some of the UK’s finest young players.

Birchall’s avowed love of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders remains clear in his playing, such as his lovely tenor intros to “Dream Of Eden” and “Divine Harmony,” and in his use of percussion. His love of reggae is far less to the fore musically, although some of the titles of his original compositions have echoes of 1970s roots reggae, while the title of the truly spectacular “The Black Ark” may well be a tribute to Lee “Scratch” Perry’s famed studio.

The band lineup is similar to that on Birchall’s Sacred Dimension (Gondwana Records, 2011). However, harpist Rachael Gladwin is missing this time round while drummer Paul Hession and bassist Jon Thorne step in. The absence of Gladwin’s bright, crystalline harp is particularly noticeable when Birchall plays tenor saxophone—it offered an additional tonal quality to the music, a contrast to Birchall’s soft tenor tone rather than the more complementary sound of Corey Mwamba’s warm, relaxed vibes or pianist Adam Fairhall’s flowing phrases. The change is less marked on tunes such as the swift, mystical, “Return To Ithaca,” when Birchall plays soprano, giving his sound a sharper edge.

The sound is bolstered by the addition of second percussionist Andy Hay on five tracks, while on three of these tunes there’s a further boost from Thorne as a second bassist. Doubling up bass and drums gives a “wall of sound” feel to the music but, as “The Black Ark” exemplifies, never overwhelms the melodies. Nick Blacka and Thorne set up a deep, rich, bass rhythm while the percussionists create a groove which is relaxed yet full of forward movement. Birchall (on tenor), Mwamba and Fairhall all use this foundation as a basis for crafting rather fine solos, full of lyricism and positivity.

There’s a consistency of approach across Birchall’s albums, but the variations in instrumentation and musicians, though relatively slight, ensure that each release bears its own personality. World Without Form’s calming and uplifting music is a welcome addition to Birchall’s discography, one of the most distinctive in contemporary British jazz.
Bruce Lindsay



Nat Birchall ‘World Without Form’ ( Sound Soul And Spirit )

Mancunian modal maestro Nat Birchall returns with his heaviest set of grooves thus far and a distinctive individual sound underpins this album. While some of the key members of his band are retained, most notably pianist Adam Fairhall and second drummer Andy Hay, there is a new atmosphere to this recording which makes it totally refreshing. Vibist Corey Mwaamba was an inspired choice and excels on ‘Speak to us of love’, the title taken from a printed quote by Eastern philosopher Khalil Gibran. The homage to Lee Perry on ‘The Black Ark’ has definite shades of Joe Henderson’s seminal Blue Note album ‘Mode for Joe’, with an especially enthralling drum crescendo from Fairhall. Multi-reedist Birchall has at times been compared to the spiritual sounds of Pharoah Sanders, but on this particular recording it is John Coltrane’s superlative album ‘Crescent’ that appears to have been a major inspiration, subconsciously or otherwise. Indeed Birchall is at his most Coltranesque on the freer flowing ‘Divine harmony’ where, with the presence of vibes, there are echoes of Jackie McLean and ‘Destination Out’. In general the all original compositions this time round are a good deal stronger and more memorable with a real treat in store on ‘Dream of Eden’ with its repeated passages and a lengthy faux intro that never really stops. This writer’s own favourite piece is the incredible reposing beauty of ‘Speak to us of love’. Unquestionably his finest album to date, this may just be the outing that marks Nat Birchall out as one of Europe’s finest saxophonists. Tim Stenhouse



Nat Birchall
World Without Form
Sound, Soul and Spirit 
Nat Birchall has got to be the generation X and northern English version of Alan Skidmore. You can’t just say that about anyone, not when sincere and detailed study and contemplation of John Coltrane is at issue. Anyone who tries half- heartedly to make the scene, unlike Skid or Nat, just won’t cut it. World Without Form never says it’s a Coltrane tribute, as Alan Skidmore records sometimes do, but it’s pretty clear throughout these seven tracks. There are twists and additional elements though, and in a nutshell these are involved with the contribution of pianist Adam Fairhall who can blow up all Matthew Shipp-like at times, something very different to McCoy Tyner’s work with Coltrane; and then there’s the vibes, bells and shakers of Corey Mwamba, adding a piquancy and altered view into the majesty of the Coltrane sound. World Without Form follows last year’s Sacred Dimension. Like Guiding Spirit and the earlier Akhenaten it came out in the same stylistic vein (with added Pharoah-isms sometimes) and was released on Matthew Halsall’s Gondwana Records, a label that has a north-west England base and revivalist DJ instincts. Halsall has been quoted as saying that Birchall’s music is “spiritual, soulful and honest”, which is a perfect way of putting it. This new release on a new imprint of Birchall’s own has more emotion than Sacred Dimension, and with the different arrangements an openness and power that after a while allow you to move on from thinking just about Coltrane. I still think Birchall has not travelled far beyond his comfort zone and that there are great things still to come from him in the future. Yet, as with Skidmore, he is doing everyone a favour with this crucially important jazz, bringing the music to a new younger audience. As a conduit to the spirit of Coltrane Birchall can do no wrong.

Stephen Graham


The List

Northern English saxophonist influenced by Thembi-era Pharoah Sanders

Nat Birchall ‘World Without Form’ (Sound Soul and Spirit)

With track titles like ‘Divine Harmony’ and ‘Speak To Us Of Love’, and his deployment of both tenor and soprano horns, Northern English saxophonist Nat Birchall makes no secret of his love of John Coltrane. While some of ‘Trane’s disciples have focused on the wilder aspects of his playing, others have explored the more meditative side of his deeply spiritual quest. The shimmering piano, African shakers and soulful tenor of the title track create a sense of cosmic bliss reminiscent of Pharoah Sanders circa Thembi. Corey Mwamba’s vibraphone brings a gorgeous resonance to proceedings, while the great drummer Paul Hession rolls it all along with delicate snare hits and rumbling toms. Meditative does not necessarily mean mellow, however, and on certain tracks, Birchhall doubles the rhythm section to add urgency and weight. This is particularly effective on ‘Return To Ithica’, where Birchall guides his Moorish-Spanish soprano over a driving groove.

Stewart Smith


The Guardian

Nat Birchall ‘World Without Form’ (Sound Soul And Spirit )

Northern saxophonist Nat Birchall’s patient yet impassioned sound on tenor and soprano saxes is a constant genuflection to John Coltrane, but though the meditative atmosphere here has much in common with his Guiding Spirit (2010) and 2011′s Sacred Dimension, the impact has been cranked up by the use of two drummers and two bassists on some tracks, and by trenchant contributions from Derby vibraphone and marimba player Corey Mwamba. The title track is a classic piece of tenor-sax soul-searching, buoyed up by Adam Fairhall’s piano and the drums pairing of Paul Hession and Andy Hay, but, within its narrow agenda, this set has its variations – in Birchall’s taut high-end runs and Mwamba’s ringing vibes figures on the uptempo The Black Ark, in the caressing delicacies of the ballad Dream of Eden, the playful grooves of Speak To Us of Love or the folk-dance Return to Ithaca, and in the eloquence Birchall summons from minimal harmony changes on the rapturous Principle of Beauty. If Birchall leans on the arm of one of jazz’s most universally followed guides, he and his musicians continue to pay their respects to Coltrane with integrity, focus and selfless skill.
John Fordham



Jazz Journal ( March 2012 )

Nat Birchall ‘Sacred Dimension’ ( Gondwana )

The first time I heard Nat Birchall’s Akhenaten I couldn’t decide whether it was profoundly in the spirit of John Coltrane or almost laughably slavish, an extension or a pastiche of the most influential instrumental sound and harmonic language in modern jazz. I’m long since persuaded that it’s the former in both cases. “Influence” is a strange and complex thing, easily cited, hard to quantify, simple enough to shrug off or deny. We have heard a generation and more of saxophone players ostensibly channelling Trane, but listening to Birchall makes you wonder how many of them did much more than cherry-pick a few elements and customise their own thing. The Englishman has taken the language of Coltrane’s later Atlantic period ( which of course includes A Love Supreme ) (sic) and instead of considering it a piece of merchandisable “heritage” has treated it as a living and inexhaustible idiom.
It takes a moment to get used to this. Walk back into the room when any of these tracks is running and it’s easy enough to be caught out. Why are Elvin and Tyner tumbling the metre like that? Is that really Garrison? When did Alice start playing harp with the group, and why did we never notice that softer, almost double-reeded timbre to Trane’s soprano playing? It really is sometimes as close as that.
But often it isn’t and it would be a mistake not to insist somewhat on the originality of what Birchall and his group do within the confines of this sanctified language. Only open-minded listening will clinch the point, and I recommend it.
Brian Morton


Mojo Magazine ( February 2012 )

Nat Birchall ‘Sacred Dimension’ ( Gondwana )

His talent is huge and yet despite having played on the UK jazz scene for over 30 years, Nat Birchall, the flat cap-wearing saxophonist from Manchester is still little known.
A scholar partly instructed by Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook and Don Drummond but more recently John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Charles Lloyd, his last two albums, 2009′s Akhenaten and 2010′s Guiding Spirit, both released on Matthew Halsall’s ace indie label Gondwana, are transcendental, inspirational works, perfectly in keeping with the 1960′s Impulse! Catalogue. His fourth, built around five brilliant six-minute plus pieces with names like Dance Of The Mystic and Peace In Nineveh – the back sleeve also contains a quote from Afghan poet Jalaluddin Rumi – casts him once more as the seeker, offering enlightenment, healing and solace in these very troubled times.
Lois Wilson


BBC – Music – Reviews ( Online )

Nat Birchall ‘Sacred Dimension’ ( Gondwana )

When John Coltrane died in 1967, the effect was like dropping a boulder of intense feeling into the deep waters of jazz, creating ripples that are still felt today. In the aftermath, it fell to his closest collaborators to continue the work, spreading his message of spiritual awakening and universal compassion through the medium of progressive jazz. While his widow, Alice Coltrane, continued on an outward curve, drawing deeper on Hindu cosmology and digging into free jazz, former bandmates such as McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders ushered in a new genre of jazz – as on Sanders’ 1971 classic, Thembi – which was still characterised by deeply-felt spiritual yearning, but which reined in Coltrane’s raging intensity in favour of a more accessible and breezily melodic tone. British saxophonist Nat Birchall is keeping that flame burning in the 21st century.
In fact, Sacred Dimension is so imbued with the post-Coltrane cosmo-spiritual vibe, it’s a little like a presentation by an early-70s jazz historical re-enactment society. Ancient World kicks the album off with bells and shakers before pianist Adam Fairhall sets up strident, Tyner-ish chords, which, supported by Nick Blacka’s determined modal bass figures, are goaded into crashing waves by the heavily rolling energy of drummer Andy Hay. Add in Corey Mwamba’s neat vibes solo and Rachel Gladwin’s delicate harp à la Alice Coltrane and it could easily be a lost outtake from Tyner’s 1970 album Extensions. Similarly, Sacred Dimension is a limpid, free-flowing tone poem in the same vein as Tyner’s His Blessings from the same album, or Sanders’ Greetings to Saud, from 1973’s Elevation.
What’s impressive, though, is how confidently Birchall assumes the mantle of Coltrane acolyte. His soprano solo on Ancient World has some of the Moorish-Iberian tang first hinted at on Coltrane’s Olé, and plays out as logically unfolding series of melodic permutations, owing much to Coltrane’s endless interrogations of simple themes. Dance of the Mystic – another loping, modal groove – sets the scene for a tenor workout crammed full of fleeting echoes of Coltrane motifs that flutter almost close enough to identify while staying just tantalisingly out of reach.
In the end, this is much more than mere pastiche. It’s a deeply sincere homage to a master, presented with an open heart full of passion and love. And, God knows, the world needs more of that right now.
Daniel Spicer


BBC Music Magazine

Nat Birchall ‘Sacred Dimension’  ( Sound Soul And Spirit – Vinyl edition/ Gondwana – CD edition )

British saxophonist Nat Birchall tends to stay put, up North, which is a pity for the aural well-being of the wider world. He’s a sensitive, spiritually minded horn player who channels 1960s era John Coltrane through his deeply felt writing and improvisation. He’s no copyist but more a disciple of the famous modal innovator. So while Birchall avoids Trane’s sheets of sound, he still has that yearning cry and displays a barely restrained intensity in extended improvisations. For this, his third album as leader, he’s augmented the quartet with Rachael Gladwin’s harp to elevate the sound. Pianist Adam Fairhall, drummer Andy Hay and bassist Nick Blacka work mostly to keep a meditative groove going but periodically they burst out to shower Birchall’s transcendental expression with radiant colour. The album seems a short set by today’s CD standards at less than 45 minutes – but the limited edition vinyl will sit well beside those classic Coltrane records. Garry Booth