Over the last few years British saxophonist and composer Nat Birchall has carved out a singular niche for himself. A deeply soulful, spiritual saxophonist whose beautiful recordings for the Gondwana label have moved people to suggest that the spirit of Coltrane was alive and well in Northern England. But Birchall is more than a slavish imitator of Coltrane’s sound there is a sense of tranquility and depth of feeling in Birchall’s music that recalls more than just Coltrane’s notes and a desire for honest, soulful communication which is also apparent in label mate Matthew Halsall’s albums. Attributes that are far removed from much of contemporary jazz’s preoccupation with punky attitudes or tricksy, technique challenging compositions.
For Birchall Sacred Dimension is a clear progression from his two most recent albums, building on Akhenaten’s spiritual wholeness and Guiding Spirits fuller sound, but with a new richer, deeper sound. Harpist Rachel Gladwin features on all tracks bringing her own beautiful, folk tinged, take on jazz harp to the music and vibist Corey Mwamba guests (who Birchall met in Arun Ghosh’s band) and brings a soulful openness to the music as well as a real energy. Wonderful, empathetic pianist Adam Fairhall remains from the last two recordings. A beautiful player who manages to sound free while always serving the music. Fairhall’s luminous playing and complete commitment does much to illuminate the music as does new bass player Nick Blacka whose big strong sound and ability to vary the bass line without losing the essential character of the music does much to drive the album. There is a change in drummer with Andy Hay, who Birchall describes ‘as a force of nature’ bringing a powerful conviction to the music playing as he does 100% in the moment. Finally where Guided Spirit featured a percussionist, for this album Birchall decided he wanted something rawer and less skilled, so he handed out bells and percussion to the band members and just asked them to play as they felt it, even roping in Rachel Gladwin’s brother Rueben, who was hanging around the studio, on one tune.
The album’s title track, `Sacred Dimension’ is inspired by the concept of elevation through music, and the cover paining is by Birchall. A painter before he took up music he was inspired to take up the paintbrush for the first time in nearly 30 years by the recording of the album. The track Ancient World is partly named for the sound of Gladwin’s harp (which brings a timeless quality) but also as the song is based on the ‘Phrygian’ mode. A first take, you can hear how the band locked into the groove immediately. Dance Of The Mystic is based around a repetitive rhythm that takes on an almost trance like intensity. While the serene Peace In Nineveh takes inspiration from the poem 'Cargoes' by John Masefield and an opening line reference to 'Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir, rowing home to Haven in sunny Palestine...’ and finally Radiant Will takes it’s title from a Stanley Crouch essay on Coltrane, where he describes him as "a man of radiant will", which chimes with both how Birchall feels about Coltrane but also with the soulful honesty that Birchall brings to his own music, music that with it’s own radiance succeeds in defining Birchall’s very own Sacred Dimension!