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Matthew Halsall: Oneness

Don Phipps By

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On Oneness, trumpeter and composer Matthew Halsall has fashioned a compendium of pieces that are fixed between spiritual meditative repose and poetry in motion. The collection of seven tone poems was recorded over three sessions in 2008 and are only in 2019 being released. In the liner notes, Halsall explains: "I've always treasured these recordings and loved how vulnerable, open and free they are, but I just felt they were too subtle and sensitive to release early on in my career, so I held them back until now. I also feel now is the right time to release these before I begin a fresh journey with a new bunch of musicians."

Halsall uses a pure trumpet tone to produce his atmospherics. On "Oneness" he's joined by harpist Rachael Gladwin, who can be heard running her fingers across the harp strings in almost angelic fashion. Midway through, the piece evolves into a jazzy structure, with Nat Birchall's sweeping sax arcs accompanying Gavin Barras' subtle but propelling bass lines and Gaz Hughes' revolving trap set work. Especially noteworthy on this piece is Fairhall's McCoy Tyner-influenced modality and fluid piano technique, which manages to stay up front and in the background at the same time. On "Loving Kindness," Birchall blows cool (with an almost John Coltrane-like tone) over Barras' repeating motif. They produce a slow mysterious musical camel ride across some vast desert land. Halsall enters at the midpoint with a solo that circles high above Fairhall's soft pedaled chords or plunky keystrokes.

On "Stories from India" and "The Traveller," Halsall pares his grouping down to bass, sitar and tablas. This creates a more fluid musical form. Assani's sitar sits in the background while Davies' tablas set the pace. On "Stories from India," Halsall uses long legato notes that are simultaneously strong and assertive, yet also gentle. Assani sounds a lot like Collin Walcott (whose solo work and work with Oregon and Codona set an early example of how sitar could be incorporated into jazz idioms), while Barras' deep woody bass adds to the exotic dimension. "The Traveler," by contrast, is like a jeep ride on a dirt road, where snow-capped mountains are seen in the far distance and the land is rocky yet colorful. The music moves, thanks to Davies' tablas. But what stands out most is Halsall's remarkable trumpet statements.

Oneness could easily be considered by some to be a masterpiece. It is both moving and spiritual, and the music speaks with heartfelt sincerity. Halsall writes in the liner notes: "I could make music on my own... but there's something far more rewarding about creating things with others."

Track Listing: Life; Oneness; Stan's Harp; Loving Kindness; Distant Land; Stories from India; The Traveller.

Personnel: Musicians: Matthew Halsall: trumpet, composer; Nat Birchall: saxophone (1-5); Rachael Gladwin: harp (1-2); Adam Fairhall: piano (1-5); Gavin Barras: bass; Gaz Hughes: drums (1-5); Stan Ambrose: harp (3-5); Mohamed Assani: sitar (6-7); Chris Davies: tablas (6-7).

Title: Oneness | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Gondwana Records

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