“…I heard John Coltrane with Miles and then I heard John Coltrane’s own stuff and loved it! And then at a later date I heard Alice Coltrane and it totally blew my mind!” Matthew Halsall
Kristian Gjersted, Lisa Mallet, Clive Hunte, Jason Singh & Matthew Halsall
Matthew Halsall’s star has been in the ascendancy ever since the release of “Sending My Love,” his debut album in October 2008 on the then newly formed Gondwana Records – an independent jazz label. The album went on to garner favourable feedback from music lovers and DJs alike, most notably Giles Peterson (BBC Radio 1); Mike Chadwick (Jazz FM) and Stuart Maconie (BBC 6 Music) to name but three.
The gifted trumpeter, arranger, producer, composer, DJ and bandleader has subsequently gone from strength to strength, recording a live studio session at the renowned BBC Maida Vale studios for the aforementioned Stuart Maconie’s BBC 6 Music show; collaborating with other UK talent such as saxophonist/arranger/composer Nat Birchill (Akhenatan/Guiding Spirit) and Nitin Sawhney, the internationally famed orchestral composer, producer, arranger, songwriter, DJ and multi-instrumentalist and extensively touring the UK and the globe. In between times he has found time to record a further two studio albums – “Colour Yes” in October 2009 and his most recent outing “On the Go” in April 2011.
So it was that Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards found himself in the Vortex Jazz Bar, London to witness Mr. Halsall’s latest musical incarnation. A mash up of all three of his album releases live on stage with the aid of a DJ, a bass player, a flautist, a beatboxer and Matthew himself on trumpet. Intrigued, The Dood took the opportunity prior to the show; to not only quiz Mr Halsall on his latest incarnation, but to also get a more in-depth background to the man and his music.
The Dood: Matthew, it’s a pleasure to link up. How are you keeping? Is life good?
Matthew Halsall: Yeah! Really good!
The Dood: What I wanted to do is get quick synopsis on the Matthew Halsall story and then bring it up to date as to what’s happening here this evening?
Matthew Halsall: Well, I started playing trumpet when I was six. My granddad used to play the piano and organ and my dad’s friends used to work a jazz club. So they took me to a gig when I was six, I saw a big band playing Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis tunes…The trumpet players were amazing – basically, all having a laugh on stage and winding the bandleader up. And I just thought that’s the type of work I want to do.
The Dood: What year looking I’ll be looking at here?
Matthew Halsall: Probably – well I was born in 1983 so it was around 1989.
The Dood: And where were you born?
Matthew Halsall: I was born in Warrington Hospital but my family lived in a place called Leigh which was about 20 minutes away from Manchester city centre. So I was on the outskirts of Manchester. Yeah, I lived there for a while and then when I was older I moved to Liverpool and studied Sound Engineering and stuff. Then I moved back to Manchester again.
Matthew Halsall and Nat Birchell @ Pizza Express Jazz Bar, London
The Dood: So why was that? Were you homesick for Manchester?
Matthew Halsall: I think the thing with Liverpool was, it was a great city, but for the type of music and the things I do, they didn’t have a big jazz scene. Manchester’s got the NME Jazz Club and Band on the Wall – so there’s a lot more going on and I wanted to go back and play at these clubs.
Band on the Wall, Manchester
The Dood: You mentioned the phrase there, “…the type of music and things I do.” Can you expand on that?
Matthew Halsall: When you listen to music, there is certain music that you feel very close to and get emotions from. And when I heard people like Miles Davis’, “Kind of Blue” and “Lift to the Scaffold” and all of that stuff, I really felt emotional when I listened to it. And I thought that’s beautiful, I want to s something like that. So I was influenced by Miles doing that. And then obviously I heard John Coltrane with Miles and then I heard John Coltrane’s own stuff and loved it. And then at a later date I heard Alice Coltrane and it totally blew my mind!
The Dood: The circle was complete?!
Matthew Halsall: The circle was complete and I had everything I needed from those three people really, and everyone else just gave me extra ideas.
The Dood: So that was your blueprint, the spine for what you do? You put your own flavour and your own personality into the mix?
Matthew Halsall: Yeah! You try and combine it all into something you can use.
The Dood: How did your first record deal come about?
Matthew Halsall: It’s funny actually, because I had been composing for a long long time, since I was about 16, writing stuff. And I had been experimenting with electronics and writing at the piano; and doing solo piano tunes; and doing jazz tunes. And it took me a long time to figure out what to do because obviously I’m a different generation to Miles and John Coltrane. So I was trying to figure out – Do I go down a hip-hop route? Do I go down a kinda electronic route? Do I go down the jazz route? And the first album I wrote with the musicians, it just felt like very complete and very close to my personality and my mood. So I have a load of other albums, like electronic ones and ambient ones.
The Dood: So that’s all in the can somewhere?
Matthew Halsall: That’s all somewhere! On hard drives and stuff, but the jazz just felt like the most honest representation of who I am and where I’ve come from. So I put that out in 2008, the Sending My Love album. And I didn’t really have any expectations – I just put it out – me and my brother. My brother did the artwork and I did the music, and we just thought, “Let’s do it! We both like it, let’s see how it goes!”
The Dood: You better name-check your brother at this juncture!
Matthew Halsall: Yeah! Daniel Halsall. So yeah, we put it out and the distributor loved it, so they started distributing it worldwide. Then we got it to Gilles (Peterson) and all the radio like the BBC 6 producers loved it? And it was really strange, because like I said I had no expectations, I didn’t think that it was liked. I just didn’t know how it was going to get received. It did very well and the response has been amazing! And then I got a manager and a booking agent. Things all started to bubble up and I had already recorded half my second album and my first album was already out.
Gilles Peterson & Matthew Halsall – From Worldwide Vol. 3 No.1
“If I could watch any jazz band in the UK, any, I would choose Matthew Halsall’s band, just love what he’s been doing for the last few years… It’s always high level, spiritual jazz music” Gilles Peterson Worldwide on BBC Radio 1
Matthew Halsall — John Coltrane ft Roger Robinson (bbc radio1 maida vale live session)
The Dood: You’re getting as prolific as Prince it sounds like to me?
Matthew Halsall: I’ve currently got another two albums ready for release – jazz albums. So yeah! It’s just gone from strength to strength and we’ll see what develops.
The Dood: Do you have any plans for further collaborations? Or is there anyone you would like to work with?
Matthew Halsall: I’d like to work with Dwight Trible and obviously Pharaoh Saunders! I love Mulatu’s stuff – I’m a big fan of his stuff. I like the Heliocentrics with Lloyd Miller vibe and stuff like that. I don’t know! It just has to happen at the right time. I’m always working and collaborating with people, but whether it comes to anything is another story. I’m working with Mr Scruff on some tunes.
The Dood: Oh! I’m glad you said that. I love Mr Scruff, I’ve got a couple of his albums!
Matthew Halsall: Well, he’s a Manchester lad. So, we’ve been working on some stuff and we’ll see how it goes…Basically, he’s got a bunch of tracks and I just go in and have a noodle around and do some stuff over it and we see what we come up with. So, I am collaborating, but quietly just seeing where things go.
Matthew Halsall @ Pizza Express Jazz Bar, London
The Dood: Do you prefer studio recording or playing live, or do both have their merits?
Matthew Halsall: Erm! It’s funny actually, because with jazz, the way I write my tunes, I don’t like the musicians to hear or see the music before a recording session. So the first time they ever play the music is actually on stage.
The Dood: Is there a reason for that?
Matthew Halsall: Yeah, there’s a reason to it. I just think that the first time musicians play a tune, all the time they’re thinking about what they’re going to play. Not over complicating things, they don’t have time to practice ridiculous phrases and melodies. It’s very much a feeling of that moment. And with a live recording for me in the studio, it’s all about THAT moment. So I think it’s really important that everyone comes to it very fresh and it’s their emotions at that moment in time. So that’s why I record and write that way.
The Dood: Is that the case with all your album releases to date?
Matthew Halsall: It’s 100% live in the studio. If anything, there’s maybe one or two splices on tracks where perhaps a piano solo or drum solo didn’t work or something. We’ll sometimes pinch a little bit out, but not much. The first album was pretty much 100% live – In one day we did four tracks and on another day we did the other tracks.
The Dood: Really!
Matthew Halsall: Yeah! It was that quick with the first album. It’s amazing how it happens.
The Dood: So you would say that creatively you’re in a good place right now?
Matthew Halsall: Yeah! Another project that I’ve been doing is an orchestral project, the Gondwana Orchestra – and that’s got two violins; a viola; a cello; a double bass; harp; flute; percussion and loads of other things – saxophone. I’m recording that at the moment. But that’s a really big job!
The Dood: So, how would you differentiate that from your previous work? Is it just to highlight your orchestral side?
Matthew Halsall: It’s just another album. I just wanted to do something different again. I wanted to use strings, because of the emotion you can get with strings. And, yeah it’s interesting! It’s probably going to come out in the late summer or maybe early next year. We’ll see how it goes.
The Dood: We definitely look forward to that! We are here tonight At the Vortex Jazz Bar – can you give us some more details about the unique set you’re going to perform?
Matthew Halsall: Tonight is my remix project, which is another thing I’ve wanted to do for a long time…and I’m still finding my feet with it, so you’ll have to bear with me…We take all my jazz records, the music from my past three albums and we have a turntable; a beat boxer and a bass player and guest flute and vocals. Basically the turntablelist/DJ takes the original jazz album and takes samples and cuts them all up and the beat boxer vibes off of him. The bass player kinda loosely plays similar baselines to the original.
The Dood: And you just float over the top of all that?
Matthew Halsall: And I just feel my way through it. At the moment I’m still trying to find the right way of sorting it all out, but I’m really excited about it. It’s basically an alternative space – I have my live jazz records and then this is for the late-night clubs and festivals.
The Dood: Talking of festivals, are you playing any this year?
Matthew Halsall: Yeah! I’m playing the Big Chill Festival; and I’m playing the Brecon Jazz Festival; and Aeon Festival; and Glasgow Jazz Festival and Mostley Jazz Festival in Birmingham – loads of festivals!
The Dood: In conclusion, taking into account your early years, what advice would you give to young people, budding Matthew Halsall’s if you will, who strive to get where you are?
Matthew Halsall: I think just go with your guts and don’t try to fit into the scene that’s happening. Do what you personally want to do and then a new scene will happen. Don’t feel that you have to make an album that is very of the moment – the best way is to just make the album without thinking about it.
The Dood: Respect! I’m looking forward to the show tonight!
Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards
L-R: The Dood; Kristian Gjersted; Clive Hunte; Lisa Mallet; Jason Singh; Matthew Halsall
On The Go (2011)
Colour Yes (2009)
Sending My Love (2008)