Recorded during the same session as the last two tracks of Matthew Halsall’s previous album Fletcher Moss Park (2012), When the World was One (June 2014) introduces seven new compositions featuring the Manchester-based composer, producer and DJ himself on trumpet and his “Gondwana Orchestra” – a seven piece ensemble. The instrument mix (bass, drum, saxophone, piano, harp and bansuri flute) and the reflective pace of the songs (7’’ to 12’’ long) all point eastwards, especially on songs like “Kiyomizu-Dera” and “Sagano Bamboo Forest” with the addition of a Japanese 13 string Koto harp (Keiko Kitamura). And the title of the final track (“Tribute to Alice Coltrane”) nicely positions the entire recording as an homage to the spiritual jazz movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The name “Gondwana” (the orchestra and the trumpet player’s own record label) refers to the southern supercontinent which was part of Pangaea (the earth’s landmass as one single supercontinent 300 million years ago before it started breaking up and drifting into separate continents). Gondwana included today’s Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Also suggested by the monochrome patterned cover, When the World was One is not a collection of themes by a leader and his band but a uniform body of work proceeding from a single source – the Gondwana Orchestra – with the “tone colour” of every instrument harmoniously merging into a lush and multi-layered whole.
Matthew Halsall consistently lets the bass, drums or harp introduce each theme (Gavin Barras, Luke Flowers & Rachael Gladwin respectively) with piano (Taz Modi), saxophone (Nat Birchall) or flute (Lisa Mallett) further elaborating upon it. The trumpet never comes in before the 3rd or 4th minute into the tune and is even absent from “A Far Way Place” or from the album preview clip on YouTube.
A gorgeously recorded modern spiritual jazz album whose melodic and rhythmic richness gradually transpires with repeated listening.