This is out on trumpeter Matthew Halsall’s Manchester-based Gondwana Records, and you know you’re going to get something good from Gondwana. Other bands on the label include Halsall himself and GoGo Penguin, as well as newly-signed Mammal Hands.
The label releases jazz but it’s a modern, accessible jazz that sounds fresh and is always pleasing. Mammal Hands is one of the best we’ve heard.
It’s a trio: Nick Smart on piano, his brother Jordan on soprano and tenor saxes, and drummer Jesse Barrett. If you want a starting point it would be smooth jazz, as this is easy on the ear and requires little effort to get into, but to call it smooth doesn’t describe the complexity of some of the playing, particularly from drummer Barrett and Nick Smart’s piano. Jordan Smart meanwhile, delivers some stunning solos that reminded us both of Kenny G in the easier sections (but much cooler) and Wesley Magoogan’s famous solo in Hazel O’Connor’s Will You in others. Pick a song with a great sax solo, basically.
Headphones are ideal, because while Smart is dropping a smooth, measured solo, the other two — particularly Barrett — are working up a sweat doing complicated stuff.
It’s appealing partly because it’s easy on the ear, and they often seem to stick to a simple beat, but there’s a lot of repetition going on, which gives it a decent groove — it’s not quite gwana, the highly repetitive Africa music used for religious ceremonies, but parts are not far off. For jazz fans, there’s a kind of soft hard bop thing going on, too (we think, we’re never to hot on genrefication). Your average tune has the piano holding it together, with the sax centre stage but slower and the drums doing their own thing underneath. Excellent.