The production methodology for their latest project differs little from before Uwe Schmidt (aka Atom TM and Senor Coconut) and Burnt Friedman once again exchanged material electronically between their studios in Santiago de Chile and Cologne de Germany, this time over a three-year period -but the sound is drastically different. Unlike the electronic neo-jazz of Inner Space/Outer Space, Spirituals is an affectionate foray into 1920s New Orleans blues and Dixieland – the embryonic sound of Jazz during its innocent and playful Swing period. Jubilant echoes of Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Django Reinhardt course through the album’s 45 minutes, with the contributions of clarinetist Hayden Chisholm (a lead voice throughout), vocalist Riff Jackson III (Richard Pike), and Triosk drummer Laurence Pike aka MF Shakespeare featured prominently.
High points include ‘Funeral March,’ a bluesy dirge of braying horns and soloing clarinet that sounds much like an early incarnation of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and ‘Hope To Hear Back Soon, Honey,’ where the shuffling pluck of electric guitar parallels the vocal, the song further distinguished by a sweet, engaging melody line and a burnished tenor sax solo that would do Ben Webster proud. Uptempo fare like the New Orleans Dixieland bop of ‘How Long Is the Wrong Way?’ alternates with the more relaxed ‘Down The River’ with its Count Basie piano and the laid-back Eastern groove of ‘In My Car (single version).’ Flanger plays it generally straight throughout, though some hint of digital tomfoolery surfaces during the sunny ‘Music Is Our Secret Code’; electronic noise is faintly audible in ‘Hope to Hear Back Soon, Honey’ too. Be forewarned: Spirituals sounds nothing like Flanger’ previous releases (Templates, Midnight Sound, Inner Space/Outer Space) and the change is at first disconcerting. But those with an open mind and, more critically, a jones for 1920s Swing will find much to enjoy. Think of Spirituals as a spirited 45-minute visit to The Cotton Club only a near-century after its opening.