Matthew Halsall and The Gondwana Orchestra: Into Forever

review halsallA x1 congThis is under the jazz heading but the casual listener might be hard-pushed to describe it as such, the latest album from Manchester trumpeter and composer Matthew Halsall being more ethereal and soulful than your regular jazz.
It’s a beautiful and intense, though laid back, album that blends easy listening jazz with soul and a splash of exotic world music. The soul comes from guests vocalists Josephine Oniyama (solo work augmented by working as a backing singer for the likes of Paolo Nutini, and Paloma Faith) and Bryony Jarman-Pinto; the world from the koto, a traditional Japanese stringed musical instrument (similar to the Chinese zheng, the Mongolian yatga and the Korean gayageum, as you all know, at least if you look on Wikipedia).
Oniyama sings on the opener Only A Woman, a RnB-ish but powerful soul song about a mother and daughter — the mother brings up the daughter, then the daughter cares for the aging mother: “She was invincible / She could pick you up .. Now she needs you more … She needs that strength you gained from her”.
As I Walk opens with perky double bass (Gavin Barras is a mainstay of the album) and percussion, offset by mournful strings, and features Oniyama again. It’s more relaxed and the koto makes its first appearance, giving the track an exotic feel: it starts off sounding like a walk down a tree-lined country lane, then suddenly turns a corner and sees a stupa.
Dawn Horizon again opens with the bass and strings; almost an interlude, it was written for piano and is followed by the funkier Badder Weather, which opens with harp (?) and Oniyama before a recognisably jazz bassline comes in.
Elsewhere, the Japanese influence is clear in songs such as Longshan Temple, the koto joined by an eastern influenced flute, and the lovely Cushendun, which opens with an eastern refrain on violin. Songs such as The Land Of are more obviously jazzy, with a groove and some eastern flute.
According to another review, Halsall’s trumpet only features in two tracks, one is the title track, and the album is suffused with that air of self-effacement, with Halsall’s compositions being softly spoken throughout.
Fans of late night jazz will probably dig this but those of you who like music that’s alt.something may well find much to like, as it wends its way between jazz, roots, world and ambient.

About jerobear

Weekly newspaper editor in Cheshire, England. I blog my editorials and the CDs I write about. I play drums, drink coffee, play music, meditate. I hate filling in forms.

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