Music from between trip hop’s aesthetic and the soporific grace of Alice Coltrane.
Daniel Spicer 2011-09-01
Perhaps more than any other popular music, jazz allows – even expects – new talents to reproduce the stylistic innovations of past decades. Rock, funk and hip hop all make appearances from time to time – but the young jazz musician usually returns to the straightforward acoustic style of past generations. Matthew Halsall is a trumpeter from Manchester who has drunk deeply from that well of inspiration.
His previous two albums, Sending My Love and Colour Yes, both owed a considerable debt to the modal, spiritual jazz of Alice and John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and others. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. To an extent, he’s operating in a space opened up by The Cinematic Orchestra, joining the dots between trip hop’s down-tempo aesthetic and the soporific grace of Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda. There’s a trace of it on this third album too: Samatha is a meditative ballad with Rachael Gladwin’s delicate harp clearly attempting to conjure Alice’s ghost. Of course, it doesn’t come anywhere near to reaching the depths of Ms Coltrane – but who does?
Elsewhere, Halsall extends his palette of influences, with some obvious nods to the storming hard bop of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Music for a Dancing Mind riffs on the Messengers’ version of A Night in Tunisia, with a rolling undertow of percussion and an opening trumpet lick that’s as close as you can get without paying royalties. And The Journey Home is built around a nimble, light swing recalling Blakey’s definitive take on Bobby Watson’s A Wheel Within a Wheel. Even so, neither track musters the breakneck energy of Blakey’s jams. Moreover, the solos lack muscle, continually feeling like they need to crank up into another gear, but never quite making the stretch.
Halsall is most convincing when he relaxes into his own milieu – as on Song for Charlie: a floating ballad resting on Satie-like piano chords and drizzling brush-work that effortlessly conjures Manchester’s rain-washed sky. With a trumpet line like a cross between a Mariachi lament and the theme from Coronation Street, it’s as if Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain had been recorded at the Granada TV studios. It’s almost original enough to make up for the rest of the album’s retro obsessions. Almost.