There is an obvious reference to John and Alice Coltrane here, but this music is far more relaxed and open - there is space around every instrument and every phrase is carefully placed to give a sense of music coming from stillness. This is a conventional Jazz quintet lead by Trumpeter Matthew Halsall, who writes all the tunes and arrangements, but is happy to step back and allow others to take centre stage - he doesn't even play on one track.
What distinguishes this and gives it a unique musical "flavour" though, is the addition of Harp, Flute and Koto. There is a distinct atmosphere of Japan - although not the intonation and scales of Japanese classical music which sounds discordant to our western ears. This is rather an evocation of Japan - gentle meditative sounds - all acoustic and sounding inspired by nature and the beauty of Japanese traditions rather than modern, hectic Japan.
Nothing here is jarring or raucous, the second track for example, is given over mostly to the sound of the bansuri flute - a distinct "woody" sound and combined with the harp and koto, this evokes the far East of caligraphy, blossoms and religious chants. Apart from this instrumental colour - most tracks seem to be based around an ostinato Double Bass pattern, which gives momentum. This is then allowed to drift into free-er improvisation, with elements of 60s modal Jazz.
All of this is recorded beautifully - Double Bass sounds woody and acoustic, while drums are subtle and delicate, never overpowering the gentle harp and flute sounds. Soprano Sax and Trumpet provide louder, Jazzier solos, but they never break the contemplative mood of the album, which all hangs together as a unified statement. Like a group of paintings portraying the experience of discovering Japanese culture. A very nice album which could appeal to a wide audience, but with high quality playing and improvising. Highly recommended.
on 18 June 2014
Matthew Halsall's continuing exploration and development of Jazz has seen the Manchester based trumpeter slowly develop a distinctive style that can be easily traced across his releases, from 'Fletcher Moss Park' (2012), 'On The Go' (2011), 'Colour Yes' (2009) and 'Sending My Love' (2008), often referencing the work of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, the latter particularly for the sense of the spiritual which continues to imbue his work. All of this undertaken whilst Halsall undertakes numerous other duties, including DJing and (of course) playing live.
Continuing on from 'Fletcher Moss Park' (2012) this set opens with 'When The World Was One', perhaps a reference to the inclusive nature of the album, as reflected in the addition of Keiko Kitamura's use of the Japanese 13 string koto harp. Yet the opening is entirely traditional, a lovely climbing piano and harp joined by a swinging trumpet motif, restated again before the initial development and further expansion. A reflective pause is provided briefly by the piano (Taz Modi) before the instrument is used to evidence some beautifully controlled playing (listen especially to 2.25 - 3.10 mins). With the re-entry of the trumpet there appears to be a very brief look to the Miles Davis and Gil Evans interpretation of Rodrigo's 'Concierto De Aranjuez' (Adagio) as heard on 'Sketches Of Spain' (1960) (around 04.09 - 04.13 mins), before the swing returns to the piece. 'A Far Away Place' opens with a wonderfully sketched harp introduction (Rachael Gladwin), before the bass (Gavin Barras) provides a simple underpinning pulse upon which the instruments can return to explore with exquisite delicacy and (an apparently entirely unaffected musical inclusiveness). This is, quite simply, beautiful.
'Falling Water' develops in a similar vein, a confidently retrained Halsall cleary happy to share the musical space with his fellow musicians, retaining a sense of complete control and lack of extravagance, in a piece that retains a slightly mournful edge. 'Patterns' initially suggests the same approach before the drum rim shots of Luke Flowers provide the edging for a shimmering and edgy motif to emerge, the rhythmic circles perhaps providing the title for the piece, which again sees wonderful technical execution by pianist Taz Modi, in music to simply submit to. 'Kiyomizu-Dera' (named after a Japanese Temple) slows the pace and appears deliberately intended to evoke the East. 'Sagano Bamboo Forest' might initially suggest a greater urgency, with an angular repeated bass pattern being joined by a strident saxophone (Nat Birchall). This is a piece most clearly reflecting the work of John Coltrane, the deceptively simple musical substructure allowing Birchall to explore and implore with equal measure. The final piece, 'Tribute To Alice Coltrane', is an open hearted tribute to Jazz often regarded as 'spiritual', questioning and questing, drawing many of the elements together heard across the album in to a final musical statement.
So. Do you buy?
This is an album that would appear initially to announce a further expansion of Halsall's musical palette , especially with regard to the musical referencing of 'the East', yet a further listen to 'Fletcher Moss Park' would suggest that this process may have begun earlier, albeit more discreetly, and I would hazard to suggest that the musical affinity between the two warrants their being considered part of the same framing. The approach remains controlled and (perhaps) might be considered slightly conservative and traditional, yet there is no denying the attractiveness of Hallsall's work, offering subtly sketched, often deeply reflective work which relies on delicacy, combining a deeply rooted musical impressionism with keenly felt emotion.
For fans of 'Fletcher Moss Park' this album offers an extension of that album's musical narrative and sound world, arguably the appreciation of both might be deepened with a listening to both. If you are a fan of rhythmically driven Jazz (especially that of the type undertaken by Robert Glasper et al) then this may not be for you as it remains firmly rooted within a tradition of instrumentally driven Jazz involving live instrumentation, with no care for the modern requirements of 'Hip Hop' and 'Funk', so no drum machines and MCs will be found here. This is striking given the fact that Halsall's work as a DJ suggests he is clearly aware of the wider musical narratives of Black music, his musical sensibilities clearly expand beyond Manchester and the UK.
Halsall's work in Jazz is to be supported and welcomed, and hopefully his work will explore even further in the future.
on 4 October 2015
I discovered the Gondwana Orchestra on the BBC radio 3 Saturday Jazz and have been exploring their catalog; This, for me is one of their best. Mellow hypnotic rhythms to sooth you into a dreamy state, strong bass line and not screaming in your face like a lot of jazz. The instruments are meticulously played, well separated musically and even sound good on headphones with a convincing spatial stage. Reminiscent of John Barry's "Beyondness" CD in its laid-backness.