Matthew Halsall has a trumpet, a label and his sights set on the next hundred years 

Foto: Simon Hunt
Matthew Halsall challenges himself anew on his fifth album. And that’s no surprise, because he has big ambitions for his music.

Matthew Halsall seems to find it quite convenient at the start of the interview when he has to bend forward because the recording gear is not working properly. The 32-year-old Englishman is friendly and polite, but doesn’t make eye contact. In his role as trumpeter and band leader, he exudes an almost shy reserve as well. 

Whereas he was prominently featured on every album cover at the start of his career in 2008, he all but faded into the background on »Fletcher Moss Park«. His last two albums, recorded as Matthew Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra, feature abstract colour patterns rather than band photos. »It was all about emphasising the collective,« Halsall explains.  »›Into Forever‹ stands for much more than just me as a trumpeter. I don’t feel like I’m not featured on the record, even though I only play on two songs. I ended up writing all the songs and arrangements. I don’t have to carry a trumpet everywhere just to be featured. The music has to be able to breathe. Space is important.«

The new album »Into Forever«, and even more so its predecessor »When the World Was One«, reflect Halsall’s vision of spiritual jazz as played in the 1960s by Pharoah Sanders or Alice and John Coltrane. These are meditatively floating, hypnotic songs recorded with an octet of musician friends. In addition to the Indian Bansuri bamboo flute, a harp and the Koto, a Japanese zither are also played. Music like a bath in lotus blossoms. For all its melodiousness, »Into Forever« is a little rougher around the edges, influenced by gospel, hard bop and soul. Halsall worked with vocalist Josephine Oniyama for the first time, who grounds the album with her magnificent soul voice. 

»I want to leave something behind that will be around for hundreds of years. If the planet is still around then.« (Matthew Halsall)

Matthew Halsall

»I listen to all kinds of music, I’m a keen DJ and record collector,« says Halsall, sitting in a hotel bar in Hamburg. »I wanted to show what kind of music I make in a different way this time around. After five albums of instrumental jazz, I wanted to make a change and work with singers and classical musicians and challenge myself.« 

Matthew Halsall grew up in Manchester and began playing the trumpet at the age of six after his parents regularly took him to big band concerts. He founded his own label, Gondwana Records, in 2008 to release his début album with his brother Daniel, who is responsible for design and the artwork. Apart from his own, there are only three other bands on the label. 

»We only sign artists who really inspire us. I received 20 or 30 demos only the other day. There was some good stuff in there, but we license the music for 25 years. If something is going to last 25 years, I really have to look at it very closely. «Meanwhile, the best horse in the stable is GoGo Penguin, a piano trio in the mighty EST tradition, whose commercial success will help fund future Gondwana releases.

Halsall speaks enthusiastically of other artists and role models. He recruited drummer Luke Flowers from the Cinematic Orchestra, whose »Ode To The Big Sea« he likes to cover with his own orchestra. Earlier this year, he released true-to-the original versions of Alice Coltrane’s »Journey In Satchidananda« and »Blue Nile« on a 12-inch, which quickly sold out. »Those were two of the most important songs I’ve ever heard that gave me direction and an idea of who I was spiritually and musically. And this is now my thank you.« 

While in Hamburg, Halsall has played two concerts at the Überjazz Festival at the former Kampnagel machine factory, first as a quintet and the next evening with a seven-piece ensemble, not including a four-piece string ensemble. The audience receives the concert rapturously, but the disappointment is great when the encore has to be skipped due to time constraints. But Halsall’s focus is clear: »A concert is a beautiful memory for some people, but for me the focus is always on making great records. I want to leave something behind that will be around for hundreds of years. If the planet is still around then. 

Incidentally, the name of his record label, Gondwana, refers to a prehistoric supercontinent that at the time included South America, Africa and India. But the trumpeter’s mother also owned a furniture shop with the same name for several decades. The Halsall brothers continue the Gondwana family tradition. Only not with chaise longues, but with jazz.