Album review

Matthew Halpin – ‘Agreements’

Matthew Halpin – Agreements

(Frutex Tracks FT012 – Album Review by Peter Slavid)

Matthew Halpin is a saxophonist, composer and a powerful and imaginative improviser, born in Dublin and now based in Ireland and Germany. Like many creative musicians he spent some time at Berklee and at the Banff centre with Dave Douglas and Vijay Iyer. His solos often have an edge to them in a way that I can only describe as “pleasantly dissonant”.

He has led a number of bands and played in many more, but this is his debut album. It is of interest not least because it manages to be many different things at the same time. The music is very often melodic, some tracks have a retro feel, and others come right out of the space age. That’s driven by the compositions, but also by the sound of the Hammond organ.

Kit Downes has been one of the Hammond organ’s most eloquent champions over the last few years, adding a Downbeat poll rising star nomination to his other accolades. The Hammond lends a special sound to the music whether it’s laying down a riff or soaring into a groove.

Irish drummer Sean Carpio has cropped up in all sorts of different environments including electronics, spoken word and others, and I recall an excellent album from his band Wowos some years ago.

German jazz guitarist Hanno Busch has his own trio and comes from a background involving both jazz and pop music

Putting these four together, along with percussionist Sergiio Martinez, has created a genuinely fresh and innovative sound.

There’s a lot of variety in the styles available here. The opening track starts with a spooky sound from organ and guitar over which the sax comes in with a short melody. This then develops with a slightly strangled sound until the guitar takes over and the melody returns. It concludes with everyone joining in another spooky collective improvisation.

In contrast the second track begins with a clean rock beat with a spiky melody, and the third track is a slow bluesy tune starting with guitar and a breathy sax giving the whole track a retro feel.

These changes of style continue through the album. I particularly liked the short Treetown, driven by Carpio with occasional honking sax interventions and the album ends with Sleep which adds the voices of singers Veronika Morscher, Laura Totenhagen, and Rebekka Salomea Ziegler – three members of the experimental a capella quartet Of Cabbages and Kings – reciting a short lullaby.

Lot’s of variety mixed with lots of imagination make for a fascinating forty-five minutes.

Agreements is released today, 14 May 2021

LINK: Agreements on Bandcamp

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