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When The World Was One

When The World Was One

Matthew Halsall is an exceptional artist. People say of Frank Zappa that he would sit and write parts for his extensively qualified band straight from imagination. Without doing an injustice to the amount of time Halsall and others may have put into the creation of this latest release, When The World Was One, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was written in the same way. Released on Gondwana Records, there’s a nice current to this contemporary jazz offering as its songs flow into existence. Championed by the likes of Gilles Peterson and Mr Scruff, Halsall is causing a certain stir and his collaboration here with the Gondwana Orchestra is the latest hint as to why.

The opening title track is structured around a building piano melody and snare-heavy drumming, with saxophone, harp and flute weaving between the spaces. ‘Sagano Bamboo Forest’ reprises much of the melodic character of earlier song ‘Patterns’, carrying the theme towards the album’s close, where concluding track ‘Tribute To Alice Coltrane’ provides a great, dusky, bassheavy denouement. The album’s theme seems to relate to the natural world, with songs like ‘A Far Away Place’, ‘Falling Water’ and the album title itself. Some jazz instruments reflect the theme better than others – the harp sounds more akin to a natural ambiance than the startling trumpet, for example.

It’s a great album though, with ‘Kiyomizu-Dera’ a highlight. The song interplays harp and piano with the exotic phrasing of the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument, to make a real standout track. Jazz in Japan has historically been criticised for being an imitation of US styles. Matthew Halsall and the Gondwana Orchestra have leaned more heavily on the Japanese style, imported it to the West, and it works brilliantly. If Halsall’s next project is a record expanding on this, it will be one to look out for.

Mark Hattersley

by Now Then Sheffield