Imperious lynchpin of British jazz Matthew Halsall returns with an eighth album that anchors his yearning, meditative and organic improvisations to heartfelt themes of ecology, nature, stars and rainforests.
The Mancunian trumpeter, composer, DJ and label owner Matthew Halsall has long resided at the vanguard of the thriving UK modern jazz scene, issuing a slew of critically acclaimed releases as well as igniting the careers of numerous luminaries; Chip Wickham, Nat Birchall, Go Go Penguin and Mammal Hands to name just four.
Salute To The Sun is his latest offering and his first new missive since 2015. Recorded in his home studio over a sequence of weekly sessions with a hand-picked supporting cast comprising harpist Maddie Herbert, drummer Alan Taylor, percussionist Jack McCarthy, pianist Liviu Gheorghe, flautist and saxophonist Matt Cliffe and bassist and long-time collaborator Gavin Barras, the seven tracks assembled here echo the bandleader’s enduring fascination with the iconic spiritual jazz typified by Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Yusef Lateef and the modal, rain-washed British style essayed on Gilles Peterson’s impeccable Impressed series of compilations (Michael Garrick, Stan Tracey et al), this time filtered through the prism of ecological matters.
Inspired by rainforests, waterfalls, star clusters and jungle field recordings, Salute To The Sun serves up an embalming and ethereal dance that speaks with a heartfelt sincerity and a tonal purity. If the thematic focus on the tropics and stars sounds rather twee and airy fairy, then the music is anything but: Halsall and his coterie of players dig deep and stretch out blissfully to evoke crisp, autumnal mornings and heat-hazed afternoons with their muscular, well-tempered tight-knit interplay and enthralling, simpatico relationship.
Foregrounded by the meditative and sonorous tones of Halsall’s limpid and earthy trumpet and anchored by a rhythm section of exotica including marimba, congas and kalimba that flows and unfurls like streams of water, Salute To The Sun proffers a warm, enveloping sound that nods towards the 70’s independent jazz of Strata East and Black Jazz as well as his oft-documented love affair with the Coltranes and the Impulse label.
The opener, Harmony with Nature, commences with what appears to be the soothing sound of a field recording of waterfalls. From here, the band proceeds to weave a beguiling tapestry of controlled intensity with Herbert’s hypnotic harp and Gheorghe’s supple splashes of piano to the fore; the Strata East vibe is most prevalent here. Similarly, the resplendent, Eastern-infused Joyful Spirits of the Universe creates a luscious and sleek intricacy, with Halsall’s velvety trumpet dancing around Gheorghe’s undulating, McCoy Tyner-style runs and then hanging in the air as the harp conjures rippling, shimmering clouds. The brief and serene Mindfulness Meditations dazzles with its ambient mist, whilst Canopy & Stars nods towards Pharoah Sanders’ 1974 classic, Thembi with its percolating mysticism, billowing clouds of trumpet and Cliffe’s swooping sax.
On Tropical Landscapes, the title track and The Energy of Life, Halsall and co pursue a sun-baked soundscape of unfettered and indelible pastoral and astral comfort, all melody-centric improvisations, deliciously meandering modality and stately tranquillity. On the former, Halsall’s succulent and ceaselessly expressive trumpet chops deliver cascades of tender, soulful blue notes as he flirts with the modes and registers of Miles Davis and Chet Baker.
With his latest document, Matthew Halsall has achieved a rich, subtle and detailed patchwork of richly satisfying and concentrated feeling, disarming in its rarefied beauty and quietly profound in its restrained lyricism.