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Matthew Ruddick

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Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Saturday, 23 September 2023 18:49

Matthew Halsall – An Ever Changing View

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Finding beauty close to home.

Manchester-based Matthew Halsall's new album would appear to be his lockdown project, recorded in a piecemeal manner throughout 2021 and 2022. Halsall claims the album was inspired by “two of my favourite places, surrounded by nature”, and while those places are not named, they are apparently in North Wales and Northumberland.

The album is not credited to the Gondwana Orchestra, who graced some of some of his earlier albums, but there’s still a wealth of talent on display, including Gavin Barras on bass, Alan Taylor on drums, Liviu Georghe on Rhodes, Jasper Green on Rhodes and piano, Alice Roberts and Maddie Herbert on harp, Matt Cliffe on alto sax and flute and Chip Wickham on soprano sax and flute – to name but a few!

As well as playing trumpet, Halsall contributes a great deal of the percussion to the album, adding piano, kalimba, celeste, chimes, bells and more.

Halsall’s sound has evolved here, and whilst the new album can still be described as “spiritual jazz”, it feels less indebted to the likes of Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane, and less influenced by Eastern philosophy, and more homegrown.

Water Street is based on a kalimba-based rhythm, with Liviu George contributing some warm Fender Rhodes. The folk-like melody is introduced by Matt Cliffe on flute, and the track gradually builds, perhaps reflecting the growing noise of the stream as it runs through the countryside. Halsall deliver a solo of his own, before Cliffe re-states the opening theme.

The title track features Halsall playing over chattering percussion, which may be designed to replicate the birdsong. Halsall plays kalimba, looped piano, chimes and other percussion, while Jack McCarthy adds congas too. Halsall’s playing is clear and strong, pretty but never flashy as befits the theme.

There are subtle variations on each of the longer tracks. Calder Shapes sees Matt Cliffe shift to alto saxophone, rather than flute, and Halsall added some field recordings – which sound like the sea, or water going into a pool – as the tune closes. Jewels is based on a simple piano motif, and has more of a beat to it, with a more prominent bass line from Gavin Barras, and drums which come in as the tune builds. Caitlin Lang also delivers an ethereal vocal to the album’s closing track, Triangles In The Sky.

Watch the official video for Calder Shapes here:

There are three shorter pieces – Tracing Nature – which opens the album, and sets the scene, as it were, Field Of Vision, which sees Halsall play piano over recorded birdsong, and the delicate Sunlight Reflection, which features Jasper Green on piano and Alice Roberts on harp.

Despite the album’s title, I longed for a little less percussion and a bit more variation. Some of the longer tracks sounded beautiful, but slightly samey, and would have benefitted from a little more space, I felt, allowing the melody to player a greater role. This is a minor complaint, because there’s plenty to enjoy here – as there is on every Halsall album – and the beauty still shines through.

 

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