Manchester-based trumpet player, composer (and DJ), Matthew Halsall, returns with a new album, Salute To The Sun - his first since Into Forever (2015). The album features a brand-new band. Halsall's regular bass player, Gavin Barras remains from the Gondwana Orchestra. They are joined by a young group of local musicians including Matt Cliffe (flute & saxophone), Maddie Herbert (harp), Liviu Gheorghe (piano), Alan Taylor (drums) and Jack McCarthy (percussion).
The new album remains firmly rooted in the spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, which can't be a bad thing, but the music is less dense than the latter Gondwana Orchestra albums, allowing the music more room to breathe and perhaps for the listen to take a deep breathe and relax, too. “I feel Salute to the Sun is a positive earthy album," explains Halsall. "I wanted to create something playful but also quite primitive, earthy and organic that connected to the sounds in nature. I was listening to lush ambient field recordings of tropical environments such as jungles and rainforests and found myself drawn to percussive atmospheric sounds which replicated what I was hearing (bells/shakers/chimes/rain sticks) and I started to experiment with more wooden percussive instruments such as kalimba and marimba.”
If that all sounds a bit new age, there's no need to worry. Yes, opening track Harmony In Nature does open with jungle field recordings, but the reassuring sound of Halsall's trumpet soon emerges. This tune was wholly improvised, and Barras's bass line holds it together, a pattern gradually emerging until Matt Cliffe comes in on saxophone. From here the tune gradually builds, drums joining, until trumpet and saxophone combine at the end. Overall, it has a lush, organic feel, and feels like a natural extension of Halsall's previous albums.
The second track, Joyful Spirits of the Universe, was also the first single from the album. It is built around a kalimba line, with drums joining the percussion. Matt Cliffe's flute takes the lead here, with delicate harp, courtesy of Maddie Herbert, playing a supporting role. Pianist Liviu Gheorghe takes over, delivering a subtle solo, before Halsall comes in with some sublime playing of his own. lovely stuff.
Watch the video to Joyful Spirits Of The Universe here:
Maddie Herbert's harp is more prominent on Canopy And Stars, making the Alice Coltrane comparisons inevitable, but Halsall's trumpet soon takes over. Indeed, his playing is much more prominent here than on the Gondwana Orchestra albums, which is welcome. Mindfulness Meditations, as the title suggests, is an ode to the pleasures of meditations. It's little more than a sketch, but a pretty sketch nonetheless.
Tropical Landscapes is more rhythmic, driven by bass and kalimba. The tune was apparently inspired by the tropical landscape paintings of Henri Rousseau, Peter Doig and Paul Gauguin, and features Matt Cliffe on flute, Halsall, then a bass solo by Barras, supported by percussion and piano. The title track highlights the gorgeous sounds of Herbert's harp, as she plays the introduction and takes a solo. There's also a lovely saxophone solo by Cliffe to enjoy. The album closes with The Energy Of Life, which is more vibrant and percussive, driven by a piano, bass and percussion groove, inspired by Halsall's favourite spiritual jazz recordings of the early 1970s.
It's been a long time coming, but i really the like the direction Halsall has taken here. It feels like a natural extension of his earlier albums, but more relaxed, less busy, which feels appropriate in the current environment. The sound is excellent, as always on Halsall's recordings, and the album boasts some lovely artwork, courtesy of Ian Anderson of The Designers Republic. Highly recommended.