Over the course of four albums, Manchester based trumpeter, composer, arranger and band-leader Matthew Halsall has carved out a niche for himself on the UK music scene as one of it's brightest talents. His languid, soulful music has won friends from Jamie Cullum and Gilles Peterson to Jazz FM and Mojo as well as an ever-growing international following. His label Gondwana Records is home to GoGo Penguin and his own albums have found Halsall exploring the modal jazz of John and Alice Coltrane, paying tribute to the hard bop of the late '50s and early '60s or most recently on Fletcher Moss Park drawing on Eastern influences in his most personal statement yet. His latest album When The World Was One is something of a companion piece to Fletcher Moss Park (much of the music was written at the same time) but draws more explicitly on Halsall's love of spiritual jazz and Eastern music as well as his own studies in meditation and travels in Japan. Beautifully recorded at Hasall's favourite studio, 80 Hertz in Manchester, and engineered by Brendan Williams and George Atkins it features the recording debut of Halsall's large ensemble, The Gondwana Orchestra, which utilises the exotic flavours of harp, koto and bansuri flute and Eastern scales to create a global palate for Halsall's life-affirming sounds.
The Gondwana Orchestra features long time collaborators Nat Birchall, saxophone, Gavin Barras, bass and Rachael Gladwin, harp as well as Taz Modi on piano. Modi who also plays with Halsall in their more electronic trio shares his passion for spiritual jazz and plays the music with real feeling while the role of the harp here is to bring a touch of 'magical reality' a floating dreaminess that is a vital part of Halsall's elegiac and beautiful music. The drummer Luke Flowers is perhaps best known as part of Cinematic Orchestra, and Halsall describes him as 'one of the best drummers in the world' and hails him for 'playing the music exactly as I heard it in my head', Keiko Kitamura is a Japanese Koto player who is becoming an increasingly important part of the Gondwana Orchestra, her role is similar to Gladwin's in that the koto helps free up the music while also bringing a real sound of the East. Finally, flautist Lisa Mallett brings a love of Indian music to the orchestra, much travelled on the continent she brings all of her knowledge and experience to play offering a unique texture to Halsall's dreamy melodies.
The album opens with the title track, When The World Was One, an expansive ascending tune that nods to Art Blakey and McCoy Tyner and draws the listener in before giving way to the dreamy, meditative A Far Away Place which features great work from Gladwin on harp and draws on Eastern influences alongside the music of Alice Coltrane and Yusef Lateef. Falling Water which features the beautiful soprano of Nat Birchall nods to classic spiritual jazz as well, but mixes in the more contemporary influences of Nostalgia 77 and Cinematic Orchestra, while the hard-driving Patterns conjures an up-lifting celebratory vibe with fine work from pianist Modi to set the mood. The beautiful Kiyomizu-Dera is inspired by Halsall's travels in Japan and in particular his visit to the Buddhist temple of the same name. Likewise Sagano Bamboo Forest is named for another place that left a deep imprint on Halsall and aims to capture his feelings as he worked through the vast maze of bamboo trees. Finally the album closes with the self-explanatory Tribute To Alice Coltrane a grooving tribute to one of Halsall's key influences. Driven by a powerful bass line and featuring wonderful work from Mallet on bansuri flute and harpist Gladwin, the band all really find their way into Halsall's groove before the leader plays a beautiful wistful solo of his own and it is the oneness of the Gondwana Orchestra that makes it such a powerful vehicle for Halsall's music as the leader takes you on his very own journey through his musical and spiritual world.