Matthew Halsall & the Gondwana Orchestra – “When the World Was One”


Matthew Halsall - "When the World Was One"This is bigger music from Matthew Halsall.  An expanded line-up and a denser sound has him digging into a modern spiritual jazz repertoire and leaving the cool blue of late-night jazz clubs behind.  The 2014 release When the World Was One is a change that Halsall had already hinted at with his previous release Fletcher Moss Park, a collection of pieces from earlier recording sessions that didn’t quite fit in with the crowd of tracks that presented an updated version of the Miles Davis modal period.  So, it’s clear this is a creative shift that has been bouncing around in Halsall’s head for some time.

Even with the expanded line-up and bigger sound, there’s still some familiarity to this music.  Along with many familiar names among the personnel, there are certain qualities to this music that recall past recordings, despite the shift in creative expression.  This is especially seen in the up-tempo pieces.  There is a fleet-of-foot lightness to a song like title-track “When the World Was One” that harkens back to the title-track of his 2009 release Colour Yes.

There is also a similarly languorous form of expression.  Nat Birchall’s sax on “Falling Water” has that appealing patience of a soloist who knows where they’re going and will take their time improvising to that final destination… not unlike “I’ve Found Joy” on Colour Yes.  And then there’s the solo from flautist Lisa Mallett on “A Far Away Place,” no less probing or persistently inquisitive than her counterpart Roger Wickham’s solo on “Freedom Song,” from Halsall’s 2008 release Sending My Love.

But commonalities aside, Halsall’s newest is a different kind of animal.  The stronger folk music elements of songs like “Sagano Bamboo Forest” and “Kiyomizu-Dera” reveal new dimensions of Halsall’s imagination.  There is also the inspired decision to add a kora player to the ensemble, bolstering the textures of the harp contributions, as well as an additional contrast to the heavy plumes of trumpet and sax.  And, overall, the music has a different feel to it.  Whereas most of his previous output sounded like a wrapped gift from the local late-night jazz lounge, his newest calls out for wide open spaces, to be played loud and long.  It also provides an extra dose of soul to go along with the ever-present beating heart.

It’s an intriguing development, and while there is a tendency to want more of the good-ol’-stuff, it’s vastly outweighed by the excitement of hearing something new and the wonderment of what-comes-next.

Your album personnel:  Matthew Halsall (trumpet), Nat Birchall (tenor sax), Lisa Mallett (flute), Keiko Kitamura (koto), Rachael Gladwin (harp), Taz Modi (piano), Gavin Barras (bass), and Luke Flowers (drums).

Released on Gondwana Records.

Jazz from the Manchester, UK scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Bandcamp | Amazon: CDMP3Vinyl

Worth noting that Bandcamp has CD, Digital and Vinyl retail options.