Manchester-based label, Gondwana, has set itself the ambitious objective of putting out classy jazz albums that are inspired by the modal jazz of legendary labels such as Blue Note, Impulse and Strata-East among others. Trumpeter Matthew Halsall is at the centre of this independent label and has delivered an excellent debut album. Influenced stylistically by late 1950s Miles Davis and perhaps also British trumpeter Ian Carr circa his stint with Don Rendell, Halsall is a gifted composer who divides his musical life between the group contained within and a larger collective, Magic Bop, that has residences in both Liverpool and Manchester.
What really impresses on this album alongside the excellence of the self-penned compositions is the combination of trumpet and flute, by no means a regular duo in jazz history, but one that fits the ambience here perfectly. Roger Wickham is the flautist and contributes a lovely solo on the opener, ‘On the other side of the world’ with a distinctly waltz-like feel. The modal bass line of ‘Reflections’, a gorgeous ballad, recalls Miles at his peak from the early 1960s and some blues-inflected piano licks from Adam Fairhall. The uplifting ‘Freedom Song’ again finds trumpet and flute operating in unison while a soulful groove is sounded on ‘Sending My Love’ which even recalls mid-1960s Horace Silver in the way drummer Gaz Hughes plays in the vein of the great Roger Humphries. It is left to the final track ‘Sachi’ for Nat Birchall to contribute a beautiful melancholic soprano sax solo which gives this number the feel of a classic 1950s Blue Note session. A most promising and varied debut and one looks forward to the band in live performance.