CD reviews

Matthew Halsall – “Salute To The Sun”

Matthew Halsall – Salute To The Sun (Gondwana Records GONDCD039 / GONDLP039. Review by Graham Spry) There are a few record labels owners who shape the world of British jazz as much as they contribute to it. These include Dave Stapleton (Edition), Gilles Peterson (Brownswood), Michael Janisch (Whirlwind Recordings), and, in his Manchester hometown, trumpeter and composer Matthew Halsall. Halsall’s record label, Gondwana Records, has done much to showcase and promote young British musicians such as Mammal Hands, GoGo Penguin and Portico Quartet and international artists such as Dwight Trible and Hania Rani. The label’s aesthetic approach is a natural extension of Halsall’s own music which is his response to the spiritual jazz of the 1970s, the contemporary electronica of the Cinematic Orchestra and James Holden, and, at least as important, his personal experiences of meditation and contemplation of the natural world. Halsall’s first album was Sending My Love in 2008, and his third, On the Go in 2011, won a Gilles Peterson Worldwide Winners Award. Last year, Halsall did issue a selection of previously unreleased recordings from as far back as 2008 on the album Oneness, but Salute To The Sun is Halsall’s first new recording since Into Forever in 2015. The album is atmospheric and gently rhythmical and allows space and opportunity for Halsall and his band of six other musicians to improvise and express themselves. This recording evokes the spirit of nature even more than his earlier recordings, as is evident from the titles of the album and its tracks, but this is a view of nature that is fresh and almost stark as shown by the album’s bold cover image credited to Halsall’s brother Daniel. Halsall recorded the album in his own recording studio over a series of weekly sessions with young musicians from Manchester including Matt Cliffe (flute and saxophone), Maddie Herbert (harp), Liviu Gheorghe (piano), Alan Taylor (drums), Jack McCarthy (percussion) and long-time collaborator Gavin Barras (bass). The trumpet tends to be the lead instrument, over a well-melded rhythm section of kalimba, harp, bass and percussion, an unusual combination which nonetheless sounds both natural and unforced. There are echoes of Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders,  occasionally of Yusef Lateef too.

The first track, Harmony with Nature, opens with a soothing wholly improvised sound that so evokes the sound of waterfalls in the forest that at first it is difficult to be sure that the track doesn’t feature samples from jungle field recordings. The single taken from the album, Joyful Spirits of the Universe, has a title very like those associated with Alice Coltrane, and like her music nicely intertwines the harp with the other instruments. The third track, Canopy & Stars, opens with Herbert’s harp but later gives way to a steady rhythm over which equal weight is given to Cliffe’s tenor saxophone and Halsall’s trumpet. The short restful Mindfulness Meditations again invokes the waterfall sounds that open the album and reminds the listener of Halsall’s spiritual inspirations and aspirations.

The album returns to the rhythm with Tropical Landscapes that is propelled as much by Barras’ bass as it is by Halsall’s trumpet and takes its inspiration from the richly coloured paintings of exotic places by Henri Rousseau, Peter Doig and Paul Gauguin. Lest the listener lose sight of Halsall’s interest in how Alice Coltrane wove a profound sense of spirituality and faith into her compositions, the title track Salute to the Sun opens with a solo from harpist Maddie Herbert and is in part a tribute to the Maharishi School where Halsall studied. The album closes with The Energy of Life which has a good solid rhythm over which Cliffe plays flute with solid accompaniment from Gheorghe on piano.

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There is a depth and space to the sound to Salute to the Sun – fine work here by sound mixer George Atkins and engineer Peter Beckmann. The musicians play as a tight unit where the improvisation is organic and never self-indulgent. This is another excellent release from Matthew Halsall in which the music is bright, warm and immediately enjoyable and has space for both spiritual yearning and memorable melody and rhythm.

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