I’m almost at the point of feeling self-consciously repetitive by announcing yet another excellent Matthew Halsall recording. Though separated by almost exactly a year, 2008’s Sending My Love and 2009’s Colour Yes were like a quick one-two punch. Halsall’s voice on trumpet is clear and fresh, sounding very modern while also sounding startlingly reminiscent of Miles Davis. He built on his growing reputation with 2011’s excellent On the Go, an album that didn’t break any new territory, but sounded to take a stab at new shapes, even if forgoing any new directions. If any fault of Halsall can be drawn out, it’s that he puts out consistently excellent albums, all sounding consistently alike. It’s a pretty impressive “fault” to have.
2012’s Fletcher Moss Park is a revealing glimpse into the shape and directions of Halsall’s music that never made it onto prior recordings. Of the seven album tracks, the first five were recorded between 2010-2011, at or before On the Go. In explaining why the Fletcher Moss Park tracks were left off of On the Go, Halsall explained in an email correspondence, “I normally record around ten to fifteen tracks and then I pick the ones that I think work well together. With the ‘On The Go’ album, I composed a lot of the music very late at night and tried to create a kind of sixties smokey jazz club feel.”
It was a wise choice. I’ve made no effort to hide my love of an album that displays a strong cohesion, and there’s little doubt that the Fletcher Moss Park tracks wouldn’t have made such a great fit on albums like On the Go or Colour Yes. The surprising thing about it is that the Fletcher Moss Park “leftover” tracks all work so well together. As Halsall explained, “It just so happens that all the tracks on this album were actually composed in Fletcher Moss Park, and even though they were written and recorded over two years, they had a certain sound and feel that brought them all together.”
Let’s talk about that music…
Your album personnel: Matthew Halsall (trumpet), Nat Birchall (sax), Rachael Gladwin (harp), Adam Fairhall, Taz Modi (piano), Gavin Barras (bass), Gaz Hughes, Luke Flowers (drums), and guests: Lisa Mallett (flute), Holly Simpson (violin), Davinder Singh (violin) and Adrianne Wininsky (cello).
What the music reveals is a more expansive sound, one that rises up and out of the classic late-night jazz club imagery and blossoms outward from there. The trumpet has a greater tendency to soar. Harp is given wide latitude to seek new territory. A string trio adds an element of luxuriant harmony. Sax speaks more to spiritual jazz than modal, a quality buoyed by a well-placed flute section.
“Cherry Blossom” opens the album with a nice harp and sax/trumpet pairing. Sax and trumpet walk stride for stride a bit, before the song enters a new section. Piano gives a few simple chords with brush work by drums. Trumpet then enters, slow and easy. It has now come back to a more typical Halsall composition, but he’s thrown out some signals that it isn’t going to be business as usual.
On the title-track, harp takes a large role, giving this album a texture lacking from previous ones. A pattern starts here, whereby harp lays out the canvas, while piano chooses some colors, drums and bass set the light and form of the room, and then trumpet and sax begin painting.
Third track “Mary Emma Louise” is notable for harp and bass trading some nice lines. There’s an easy pace to the song, a sensation not contradicted by its quick shuffle and hop tempo.
Another notable addition has to be the addition of a string trio for two album tracks. “Sailing Out To Sea” is a short interlude of strings, brief but beautiful. It leads right into “Wee Lan (Little Orchid),” which has harp and string trio in conversation. Harp twitters patiently while string trio draws out the sound of each lush word.
Also added to the mix, flute floats prettily to open “The Sun in September,” with harp buffeting it skyward from below. Trumpet enters in the last section of the tune, calling out a few times, but letting flute maintain its spot in the light.
Album ends with “Finding My Way,” which has a pleasant scattering of rhythmic bursts which draw Halsall’s trumpet into their orbit. It has a nice stop-and-go feel to it, creating a tempo that gives piano plenty of space to breathe clearly through the patterns.
So, here I am talking about yet another solid Matthew Halsall release. Except, this time, while the standard of excellence expected from a Halsall album is still achieved, he’s also raised the bar on expectations and the level of inquisitiveness on where Halsall goes from here.
Released on the Gondwana Records label.
Jazz from the Manchester, UK scene (more on that in a moment).
About that Manchester, UK scene…
If you check out the personnel section for this album, you’ll find those names appearing on some excellent albums of their own in the span on the last year. Pianist Adam Fairhall released The Imaginary Delta, which will likely place in my Best of 2012 final list (review HERE). Earlier this year, bassist Gavin Barras released Day of Reckoning, and a few months before that, as part of the EU Quartet, released The Dark Peak (reviewed HERE, along with other Barras albums). Nat Birchall has brought his sax to all of Halsall’s recordings to date, and Halsall has repaid the favor by appearing on all of Birchall’s albums, including his latest, the intriguing Sacred Dimension (reviewed HERE).
I asked Halsall about the Manchester scene…
BirdIsTheWorm: Jazz has often been signified by its geographic pockets of musician communities. I can’t help but notice that over the course of your recording history that many of your sidemen have been releasing some excellent music of their own. Do you get the sense of something special happening in the Manchester scene? Do you have any observations about what’s going on there that could give some insight to those outside looking in?
Halsall: “Manchester is full of amazingly talented musicians and DJs, and there’s a really nice sense of community. Everyone’s checking out each other’s work and supporting each other. A lot of people have a real passion for music and want to share it with each other. You see many jazz musicians at folk, classical, electronica and various other gigs (and vice versa), and the city has a number of great venues and festivals that support musicians and give them the opportunities to try out new projects and explore new sounds. Manchester also has a number of great independent record shops (Piccadilly Records, Vinyl Exchange King Bee Records, Vox Pop Records), which have a broad selection of music and knowledgeable staff.
It’s this community that makes Manchester special and you only have to ask around to find the right people. For instance I found Nat Birchall after listening to a load of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders records, and I asked a friend if he knew any saxophone players who where into that sound and vibe and he recommended Nat. I met Adam Fairhall through a couple of hip hop producers I was mates with. I met Rachael Gladwin through a folk singer-songwriter who was working with her brother on the design of her album cover. I met Gavin Barras at a jazz jam session.”