When sax player Tyrone Birkett tells you he gathers his influences wherever he may find them, he isn't kidding around. Postmodern Spirituals: The Promised Land is a CD chockful of everyone he mentions and a good deal more besides: Miles, Quincy, Coltrane, Weather Report (Wayne Shorter), Mike Brecker, gospel, soul, and so on but also Lonnie Liston Smith (Birkett plays keyboards as well and arranges everything here), Sonny Stitt, Dewey Redman, stage opuses, and more besides. In fact, Postmodern sounds like it was meant to be a very hip combo of concert and theatrical presentation. The center point, though, is the proliferation of Birkett's superb soloing, flights that take you beyond borders.
Co-featured throughout the disc is his wife, Paula Ralph Birkett, on vocals, tackling the classic Motherless Child and then the all-original compositions of her husband. The semi-cosmic (more of that Liston Smith!) ballad Freedom Dreaming is particularly entrancing as her voice blends into the atmospherics with Gregory Royals' crystalline piano work and Tyrone's more celestial keyboards. Listening to it all, you just know the latter was long ago listening to Cecil & Margouleff on Stevie's Superlative Trio (Talking Book, Fulfillingness First Finale, Innervisions, LPs still unparalleled).
Interestingly, the promo lit refers to Postmodern Spirituals as a reworking of the hallowed old CTI vibe and sound, and I'm not at all inclined to argue, especially as regards the "curious usage of form" (whoever wrote that phrase: niiiiice!) that was distinctive in the now-dead but still esteemed imprint. Too, I was strongly reminded of Archie Shepp's recent (2013) revival of his 1972 Attica Blues Orchestra's I Hear the Sound. Shepp and Birkett have much in common in terms of spirit and folk-feeling, not to mention outrageously cool jazz chops, and the two releases would make an exceedingly dynamic double-bill in any concert hall in the country.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles