Saxophonist Tyrone Birkett has synthesized his mentorship by jazz greats Frank Foster and Budd Johnson, years toiling in black church sanctuaries and 70s soul-jazz into a distinctive fusion. An “outsider” artist not common to the jazz scene, not considering himself a jazz musician in the strictest sense, he has nonetheless developed a powerful lyrical sound with shades of post-Coltraneisms, jazz sensibilities and an idiosyncratic but musical melodic sense. A composer and conceptualist as well, he has created “Postmodern Spirituals”, a retelling of the Negro freedom song. Created as a voice for freedom in contemporary times, by re-imagining and reviving the Negro spiritual.Postmodern Spirituals: The Promised Land
is the first presentation of the Postmodern Spiritual concept, featuring saxophonist Tyrone Birkett with vivid compositions that vary from the funk-driven epic “The Departure”, commencing with a bold declaration, an overture of sorts for the project. Vocalist Paula Ralph-Birkett gives the statement of purpose which flows into a sax solo that “preaches the message”. Other selections range from a re-imagining of the Negro Spiritual “Motherless Child’ revived by a soulful vocal rendition, funky underpinning and new arrangement, “Strength” with a determined vocal delivery by Paula Ralph-Birkett and a unyielding sax solo by Tyrone Birkett.
Then a modern re-creation of a slave’s sorrow song, the heartfelt ballad “Deep River”, (which is heard in the 1929 film version of “Showboat”); the impressionistic “Freedom Dreaming” ; ending with the haunting “The Promise” with a melody inspired by Wayne Shorter featuring a passionate solo by bassist John Benitez, round out the album.
Together these songs suggest a revitalizing of the classic “CTI” sound with its blending of soulful sophistication, added by a rich and imaginative harmonic palette and curious usage of form.
The message of the music is translated through the lyrics and melody that can be described as “neo-folk” in its character underpinned at times by modernistic
harmonic structures. Presented with a versatile and able cast of musicians, this recording promotes the notion of freedom in word and deed, style and substance.
“Postmodern Spirituals: The Promised Land”, Freedom Music for the 21st century.