Drawing on the spiritual, ecstatic and eastern-influenced jazz of Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Yusef Lateef, the music of Miles Davis of course, the Nu Jazz and electronica of The Cinematic Orchestra and a broad musical culture garnered as a regular DJ, Manchester-based trumpet player Matthew Halsall has been crafting an enchanting and holistic jazz ensemble sound since 2008. After a five-year recording hiatus, Matthew Halsall returns with a new album as a leader and a brand new ensemble. Salute to the Sun was released on 20 November 2020 last on Gondwana Records.

Matthew Halsall - Salute to the Sun (2020)
Matthew Halsall – Salute to the Sun (2020)

Since Colour Yes in 2009, every Matthew Halsall’s recording has featured a harp. This sonic imperative of balancing the sound of the harp alongside percussion, bass or brass instruments and letting every instrument breathe within the ensemble has consistently contributed to a serene and unhurried sound.

If Fletcher Moss Park (2012), When the World was One (2014) and the Journey In Satchidananda / Blue Nile EP (2015) all paid a clear homage to the early 1970s spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane, Into Forever (2015) introduced the R&B-inflected singing of Josephine Oniyama and Bryony Jarman-Pinto and a string quartet to the Gondwana Orchestra sound.

With the exception of double bass player Gavin Barras who has been present since the beginning, Salute to the Sun introduces an entirely new line up of young musicians from the Manchester jazz scene, namely Matt Cliffe on flute & saxophone, Maddie Herbert on harp, Liviu Gheorghe on piano, Alan Taylor on drums and Jack McCarthy on percussion.

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.

What sets Salute to the Sun apart from previous Matthew Halsall recordings is the inclusion of field recordings and tuned percussion instruments such as the kalimba and the marimba which both introduce the more rhythmic tunes like “Joyful Spirits of the Universe” or “Tropical Landscapes”.

At the same time, bells, shakers, chimes, rain sticks and the ever-present harp all help shifting the sound towards an ambient and reflective mood with the title track beautifully meandering over 11 minutes as a superb meditative conversation between saxophone, trumpet and harp.

Breaking the mould of the solo-driven style of classic jazz, Matthew Halsall’s music favours a natural melodic flow inspired to some extent by the practice of yoga and meditation as suggested by many of the song titles. And as always with Gondwana Records, the overall aesthetics and production values remain impeccable. Testament to the quality and vitality of the independent label, each new LP limited edition and repress of Salute to the Sun keeps selling out on Bandcamp.