Matthew Halpin ‘Agreements’ CD (Frutex Tracks) 4/5

‘Tinkle Tinkle’, Thelonious Monk’s tune was reinterpreted for the twenty-first century by tenor saxophonist and composer Matthew Halpin. It features on his website to whet the appetite of would-be listeners. I can see why he chose this piece to represent himself with its playful, energetic and free approach; it certainly does the job of enticing the listener to find out more about the artist.

It just so happens that Halpin’s debut as leader is released on May 14th. This Dublin born, Cologne-based musician has appeared on plenty of other recordings as a sideman and co-leader. Previous projects have ranged in scope from Last Chance Dance, described as an ‘appreciation of the storytelling potential of traditional jazz music’ with a focus on sounds inspired by Sonny Rollins. The Owl Ones is a collaboration with Austrian vocalist Veronika Morscher who also features on Agreements. Cat Out of the Bag, a Cologne-based project which Halpin describes as ‘stumbling through the genres’ and Matthew Halpin’s Earwax Control which is described as ‘Humorous, absurd and captivating’ with its audiovisual experiments and projected visuals of classic movie footage and cartoons. These are just a few examples; Halpin has so far had a fluid approach to musical genres with an emphasis on reinterpreted classics and a few self-penned numbers.

Agreements, an album of original compositions by Halpin see him evolving from classic jazz territory towards a more experimental field though he still draws on an eclectic range of influences. On Agreements his collaborators are Kit Downs (organ) Hanno Busch (guitar) Sean Carpio (drums) and Sergio Martinez (percussion). Three vocalists also feature: Rebekka Salomea Ziegler, Laura Totenhagen and Veronika Morscher.

‘To Do Today To Do Dismay’ is the quirkily titled opening tune which revolves around an off the wall riff played with varying tempo. There’s a pleasant whiff of psychedelia about it as the sound speeds up, slows down and wavers in and out of a dreamlike place before it picks up pace once again and the original theme is resumed. Kit Downs’ organ sound adds to the period feel of the piece as do Hanno Busch’s guitar textures.

‘Dancing with the Devil’ has a funked-up riff and some joyous Hammond work matched by Halpin’s equally joyful sax soloing; the organ grinds away underneath the rock-inflected theme of Busch’s grungy guitar. Later, the neat and breezy melody of ‘The Beach’ contrasts with the slow, bluesy and slightly out of place ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ with Halpin sounding not unlike Coleman Hawkins.

The album rounds off its eventful journey with an interesting pair of tracks: ‘Sigh for Sam’ has an ambient quality, as if it was recorded in the small hours but there’s a restless undertow which takes hold in a rather unsettling way. I get the impression someone’s not sleeping too well. The closing song ‘Sleep’ finds an answer to this quest with its beautifully soothing harmonised vocal, ‘May your sleep be sound and silence all the world/ time unwound/ time unwound’, at last, there’s a resolution.

This album doesn’t have a particularly polished quality to it; the music is more like a work in progress and I think that’s part of its appeal. Halpin isn’t afraid to make stylistic leaps but somehow manages to hold it together and offers some compelling new musical directions.

James Read