Manchester musician carves a strong individual identity on album four.
Daniel Spicer 2012
Since the release of his 2008 debut, Sending My Love, Manchester-based trumpeter and composer Matthew Halsall has worked through his influences, album by album, in pursuit of an original voice.
His first few albums displayed a clear debt to the spiritual jazz of Pharoah Sanders et al, viewed through the post-trip hop haze of The Cinematic Orchestra; and 2011’s On the Go dipped into Art Blakey’s 50s hard bop. With Fletcher Moss Park, Halsall has nailed a compelling musical identity of his own.
The seeds had already been sown. On the Go’s Song for Charlie was a diaphanous ballad with sighing brushwork and melancholic melodies that made Halsall – along with guitarist (and Cinematic Orchestra member) Stuart McCallum – a key figure in a nascent Mancuniana, creating bittersweet, gently-grooving, down-tempo soundtracks for the city’s rain-soaked rooftops.
Fletcher Moss Park – named after a peaceful oasis of parkland in Manchester’s urban bustle – develops the idea still further. Pieces like the title track and Cherry Blossom use gentle rhythms, simple bass hooks and spacious themes to create understated, introspective moods that owe as much to Erik Satie as they do to Miles Davis.
Like Miles, much of Halsall’s skill lies not necessarily in his playing (which can seem a little tentative at times) but in his arrangements and knack for assembling a band. And here he’s aided by some of the most talented players in the north of England.
Saxophonist Nat Birchall and pianist Adam Fairhall both bring a depth that connects right back to the 60s and 70s spiritual jazz that helped form Halsall’s aesthetic – with Fairhall’s comping on the title track revelling in a stately, laid-back authority. And Rachael Gladwin’s harp solos on tracks like Mary Emma Louise show Halsall’s still happy to offer a respectful nod to Alice Coltrane.
On the most propulsive cut of the album, Finding My Way, Cinematic Orchestra drummer Luke Flowers offers a deceptively driving groove of sticks, snare and rim-shots that nips along like the late-90s acoustic drum’n’bass experiments of 4hero. But it still feels like a beautifully happy-sad afternoon drinking hot sweet tea and watching raindrops run down the windowpane.