Following on from his recent string of exceptional all-solo albums, Mysticism of Sound, Ancient Africa and Afro Trane, Nat Birchall releases his first new studio recording, Spiritual Progressions, with his current working group, Unity Ensemble. This group consists of long time musical partner Adam Fairhall on piano, plus the bassist in Nat’s group for several years and albums, Michael Bardon, and a welcome return on drums by Paul Hession who recorded on the legendary Live In Larissa double album. Rounding out the five-piece ensemble is percussionist Lascelle Gordon, a mainstay of the London music scene for many years.Nat says he chose the name for the group because “This particular group of musicians has a very unified sound, each player has a very individual sound and concept but they all come together in this group and blend incredibly well. Making music with this band is pure joy.”The album features four tracks, all composed by Nat, which beautifully illustrate Nat’s comments.The first track, Unity, speaks for itself and the cohesion of the group sound, each instrument adding to the overall vibe with no hint of grandstanding or musical one-upmanship.Lokumbe is named for the legendary trumpeter and composer/bandleader, Hannibal Lokumbe, formerly known as Marvin Peterson, who is one of Nat’s musical heroes, keeping the flame of soulful, spiritual and far-reaching music alive for many decades and still going strong.Nile Valley is so titled because, as Nat explains “This song made me think of an ancient Egyptian Royal barge moving along the river Nile, in a slow and stately fashion.” The unhurried pace of the song and genuinely colourful sounds from all the instruments really bring this image to life in the mind of the listener.The final track, Sun in the East, is about “new beginnings, figuratively speaking, like the sunrise in the East every morning, each day bringing a fresh opportunity to renew our resolve to progress in different ways, or even to start again from scratch. It’s never too late to make a change or to begin a journey.”The album was recorded live in the studio in Manchester, then Nat overdubbed some percussion and other instruments, mbira, balaphon, wood flutes etc, to add some extra textures to the musical canvas. As Nat says “Music and painting have many things in common, and I tend to think in terms of musical colours and textures when composing or arranging songs. As with a painting, balance is very important when making music, and this group is the most beautifully balanced group I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”Nat Birchall Unity Ensemble – Spiritual Progressions (Ancient Archive of Sound AAOS 221)140g black vinyl LP pressed in the UK at Vinyl Factory released August 26, 2022Nat Birchall - tenor saxophone, wood flutes, singing bowls, mbira, balaphon, gunibri, percussion. Adam Fairhall - piano. Michael Bardon - bass. Paul Hession - drums. Lascelle Gordon - percussion, hand drums.