‘Into Forever’ – Matthew Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra

IntoForever

MANCHESTER-based trumpeter, composer, arranger and bandleader Matthew Hallsall appears to have played a masterstroke with The Gondwana Orchestra’s new album, Into Forever.

The chilled, slowly-shifting soundscapes of Matt’s previous releases, though hugely popular with audiences, have not especially struck a chord with me; the spiritual koto-and-harp atmospheres of 2014’s album When The World Was One and more recent EP Journey in Satchidananda/Blue Nile sounding particularly ambient, even soporific. But the realisation of a long-held desire to work with vocalists has, like a smouldering taper to a wick, brightly ignited Halsall’s compositional skills here like never before.

Halsall first met Manchester ‘soul poet’ Josephine Oniyama whilst collaborating on a BBC Radio 3 programme, consequently sparking his imagination – and in enlisting both Oniyama and vocalist Bryony Jarman-Pinto, along with a string ensemble, something beautiful (and often pleasingly retro in feel) has occurred. Blending the nine-piece Orchestra’s world/jazz hues with these new colours, there’s an awakening of sound whose multiplicity recalls Air (of Moon Safari fame), Nils Frahm, The Cinematic Orchestra… and going back further, glimmers of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever.

The 11-track sequence is introduced by Josephine Oniyama’s strong, clear vocal in Only a Woman – illustrating a daughter’s eventual role reversal in caring for her elderly mother, its gently buoyant pulse is tempered by lush strings and shimmering harp glissandi. And the memorable octave-vocal of As I Walk – at steady-though-hypnotic walking pace marked out by strings and deliberate percussion – is finely decorated by harp and wordless backing. Serene interludes are to be found along the way, Dawn Horizon heralding the especially engaging Badder Weather whose Santana-like groove is illuminated by Oniyama’s emphatic vocal delivery. These Goodbyes reveals a deep, cinemascopic yearning (dedicated to the passing of one of Halsall’s friends and supporters), whilst fast-travelling The Land Of is clearly pictorialised by complex, clattering drums and percussion, as well as deliciously mystic flute which, in following Longsham Temple, evocatively pitch-bends the slower melodies, perhaps suggesting a long journey’s arrival.

Brief interlude Cushenden is majestically oriental, its strings resembling the world music explorations of Kronos, and title track Into Forever becomes meditative in its combination of Josephine’s Oniyama’s vocal lines and Halsall’s blue trumpet, upheld by delicate harp ostinati and droplet piano elaborations. Similarly transcendental Dean Park (prompted by an outdoor Tai Chi class the trumpeter witnessed in Taiwan) suggests the quietly-flowing streams of a Chinese garden, complete with bell-like chimes, which Halsall’s smooth improvisations pervade. And to close, Bryony Jarman-Pinto’s quirky, inflected vocals animate Jamais Vu (a fascinating voice which should be employed more extensively in later projects).

Still with Matthew Halsall’s trademark Eastern-flavoured ambience, this is a recording whose new-found vocal richness suggests further possibilities for development, and is sure to be a hit with established fans.

Released on 2 October 2015, Into Forever is available in CD, 12″ vinyl and digital formats from Hallsall’s own label, Gondwana Records (at Bandcamp) as well as online and in record stores.

 

Matthew Halsall trumpet
Lisa Mallett flute
Rachael Gladwin harp
Keiko Kitamura koto
Taz Modi piano
Gavin Barras bass
Luke Flowers drums
Sam Bell percussion
Chris Cruiks percussion
with
Josephine Oniyama vocals
Bryony Jarman-Pinto vocals
and
Margit Van Der Zwan cello
Natalie Purton viola, violin
John Purton violin
Jote Osahn violin
Ollie Izod violin

matthewhalsall.com

Gondwana Records – GONDCD013 (2015)

‘Subterranean: New designs on Bowie’s Berlin’ – Dylan Howe

Subterranean

THE ‘BERLIN YEARS’ of David Bowie’s wide-ranging pop/rock career are amongst the most memorable – a source of fascination and inspiration to musicians, including composers and instrumentalists from other genres.

In the mid-to-late ’70s, Bowie had turned his attentions to a more minimalistic/ambient output, influenced by a move to West Berlin and stemming from his interest in postmodernist contemporary art. The recorded legacy of that period centres around two (some say three) seminal albums – Low and Heroes, both from 1977 – produced by Tony Visconti and including celebrated rock experimentalists Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. Two decades on, leading American contemporary composer – and friend of Bowie – Philip Glass reimagined both projects as stunning orchestral symphonies which highlighted the far-reaching creative possibilities of these iconic compositions.

Now, as a fan of Bowie’s original recordings from his teenage years, and seeking a more original and personal direction for his own work, British rock and jazz drummer Dylan Howe has translated the ‘call’ of that ‘Berlin era’ into a remarkable new studio release, Subterraneans, mainly interpreting the instrumental aspects of this pair of albums. Created over a period of several years, and realised thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the accomplished personnel comprises Julian Siegel and Brandon Allen (tenor sax), Ross Stanley (piano, synths) and Mark Hodgson (double bass) along with appearances from bassist Nick Pini, guitarist Adrian Utley and special guest on koto, Dylan’s father (needing no introduction to Yes fans!), Steve Howe.

The landscape of the project is broadly filmic, encompassing prog/synth rock and post-bop jazz; and whilst initially slow burning, it progresses and expands into an imaginatively colourful fusion of both. So, opening track Subterraneans maintains the shifting synth profile of the Low original, but ticks perhaps more optimistically to Howe’s snare/cymbal rhythm and the subtle explorations of piano and sax. Weeping Wall encourages a greater jazz quintet presence and momentum, Howe prominent at the kit against Vangelis-like electronics; and the extended All Saints (a later Bowie creation), opening with the expressive bass of Mark Hodgson, leaps into a wide piano-driven jazz swing, Brandon Allen taking the wonderfully hard, dry Coltrane-esque tenor solos (sinister synth whinings hovering behind).

Some Are smoulders like some late ’60s TV thriller theme, leading to the similar drama of Neuköln – Night (from Heroes) – this time, an effective, fast-paced reworking in which Howe’s drums and Stanley’s piano skitter to the ebullition of Nick Pini’s bass. Howe takes Art Decade to another place, its ambient Eno-like qualities evident, but shimmering as a sensuously-felt, droplet-piano ballad. Warszawa – in Bowie’s hands, sombre and menacing – becomes sprightly and dance-like to Dylan Howe’s touch. Whilst such a transformation might sound crass or insensitive, it is in fact surprisingly successful; tempered with unsettling moments characterised by Adrian Utley’s echoic guitar, the jazz groove which ultimately dominates these eleven minutes is joyful in its synth-infused abandon.

Neuköln – Day picks up on the earlier Night theme; here, a darker variation – and my futile, self-indulgent desire at this point anticipates a crashing Sound Chaser-like injection from master guitarist Steve Howe! But no fear – Mr Howe (Senior) takes up the koto embellishments of serene Moss Garden to close the set.

Released on 7 July 2014, Dylan Howe will be touring Subterranean in the UK from 5 September (see dates below). Whether or not Bowie runs through your veins, it’s worth investigating at Bandcamp (download/CD/vinyl) – and endorsed enthusiastically by davidbowie.com and the great man himself.

 

Dylan Howe drums
Mark Hodgson double bass
Ross Stanley piano, synths
Brandon Allen tenor saxophone
Julian Siegel tenor saxophone
with
Nick Pini double bass
Adrian Utley guitar
Steve Howe koto

dylanhowe.com

2014 tour dates:
Dylan Howe; Dave Whitford; Ross Stanley; Steve Lodder; Andy Sheppard

5 September: Colchester
10 September: Lincoln
11 September: Nottingham
12 September: Derby
13 September: Hessle
26 September: Brighton
29 September: London
1 October: Halifax
2 October: Milton Keynes
3 October: Liverpool
18 October: Coventry

Motorik Recordings – MR1004 (2014)