INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Matthew Halsall/ Gondwana Orchestra with support Mammal Hands (St John’s Church, Hackney 26 May)

Matthew Halsall


Early bird tickets are on sale for the GONDWANA ORCHESTRA’s Hackney gig in May which will also double as the launch pad for the latest album from label-mates Mammal Hands. 

On his way to his Manchester studio home from home, the orchestra’s MATTHEW HALSALL spoke to Stephen Graham:

Working on a remix of the master of On the Go in Manchester studio 80 Hertz it’s non-stop for Matthew Halsall. His idea he says is to add three or four bonus tracks to this 2011 sextet album and issue it for the first time as a special vinyl edition in time for Record Store Day in April.

Bustling along and talking with a smile in his voice as he speeds up to date he tells me that one of his bands, Norwich outfit Mammal Hands, recently camped out living like students in Halsall’s own house in Manchester, have now departed and everyone is counting down to the release of their latest album in the spring that Halsall is also producing and issuing on his label.

Leading the Gondwana Orchestra who released their latest album, the vocals-infused Into Forever back in the autumn, the trumpeter directs a much distilled spiritual sound, influenced by Alice Coltrane at its beating heart, the core eight piece on the album playing mainly his own compositions with additional percussion and strings, singer Josephine Oniyama enhancing the sound, the style moving on from the McCoy Tyner Sahara period-inspired When The World Was One.

The Gondwana Orchestra

Devoting himself to several activities as a multi-tasker, Matt’s also a DJ who trained as a sound engineer, first took to jazz when his parents brought him along as a young boy to hear a jazz band play Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia and Miles Davis’ Milestones, later, all grown up, now playing sessions, juggling a day job at Ticketmaster, saving up a few quid to found his own label. His brother Daniel is also involved with the label and designs the artwork, the ‘look’ influenced by Peter Saville and Designers Republic.

Matt traces his DJ roots partly back to the inspiration of Manchester club legend Mr Scruff and the sampling genius of the Cinematic Orchestra, and traces his record company inspiration back to the Hackensack and Englewood Cliffs studio sounds of Rudy Van Gelder, his music to Alice Coltrane and spiritual jazz, the Gondwanas’ stirring version of ‘Journey into Satchidananda’ the blueprint made real.

The local Matt and Phred’s jazz club scene played a big part in Halsall’s own jazz awakening. “Matt and Phred’s,” he says, “was basically the melting pot of the Manchester jazz scene, it was seven nights a week. It was run by Matt Nixon at the time, a sax player who was very much focussed on getting the best deepest musicians around and from further afield.”

Halsall also met Nat Birchall there deep in the Northern Quarter and with setting up his own label in mind started ‘headhunting’ players and bands to recruit. In conversation Halsall likes to use the word journey quite a bit and his own wanderings have taken him to live in the Japanese city of Osaka serious in his intent to represent his inner musical and spiritual quest and translate his love of jazz into life.

As well as signing the Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders-influenced Birchall, piano trio GoGo Penguin steeped in the twin inspirations of the electronica of Aphex Twin and the post-Monk ground breaking Scandinavian sound of EST, would release Fanfares and v.2.0 the latter picking up a Mercury nomination a breakthrough for both the band and the wider exposure of the label beyond its northern base.

Halsall picks up the GoGo Penguin theme by explaining how he met the trio. “Their drummer, Rob Turner had actually been depping for me quite a lot over the years. Because in Manchester there were two really, really, special drummers that everyone knew about. There was Luke Flowers, who’s with me now, and Rob Turner. Rob was the only person who could basically keep up with filling in the spots for Luke. I remember doing a gig down in London and playing Aphex Twin and Squarepusher records in the car on the way back. And I was saying to Rob that with his drumming skills he could really smash some acoustic electronica style and do really well out of it. And he actually told me he had been thinking the same thing. He sent me ‘Last Words’ which was like his composition that ended up on the first album and it was very much Aphex Twin-inspired. I immediately signed GoGo Penguin.”

Now about to release their Blue Note label debut Man Made Object and tour in the States GoGo Penguin may have flown the nest but Halsall still has another great band up his sleeve in Mammal Hands who launch their new album and provide support for the Gondwana orchestra at their St John’s church gig in Hackney on 26 May.

LINK: Details/bookings for 26th May

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