Gondwana Records: GONDCD062

Matthew Halsall: trumpet, piano, kalimba, glockenspiel, celeste, percussion, looped piano, Rhodes and piano effects, chimes, custom made tuned triangular gongs, bells, field recordings, log drum; Matt Cliffe: alto saxophone, flute; Chip Wickham: soprano saxophone, flute; Alice Roberts: harp; Maddie Harper: harp; Liviu Gheorge: Rhodes; Jasper Green: Rhodes, piano; Gavin Barras: bass; Alan Taylor: drums: Jack McCarthy: congas, percussion; Chris Davies: xylophone; Caitlin Lang: vocals

Recorded April 28th 2021, 13th October 2021, February 9th 2022, July 19th-20th 2022 at WR Audio, Manchester by Matthew Halsall and Daniel Watkins, and 19th May 2022 at Llanddeusant, Anglesey by Matthew Halsall.

At one level this album continues Halsall’s celebration of the music of Alice Coltrane and the harps of Roberts and Harper, together with Halsall’s own piano lines, shine over bird songs and kalimba phrases. Wickham’s flute on the opening, ‘tracing nature,’ and closing, ‘triangles in the sky’, tracks in particular create a sensory experience that expands the boundaries of Halsall’s compositions from the near East to the Far East without compromising the sound that he has established over his previous nine or so albums.

The album would easily find itself on turntables in the Ibiza’s Café del Mar to great the sunrise and soothe the brow of out-clubbed clubbers. But there is more to this set than its chill out grooves, and this heralds a step-change in Halsall’s construction of his compositions and the ways in which his trumpet and Wickham’s saxophones or flute, in particular, are given space to not only develop the mood of the piece but also to introduce and explore melodic inventions.

The music continues to work within the limits of ambient musical style and the ways in which the ensemble cooperates to create the mood of a piece, but I feel that Halsall is flexing his tune-writing muscle to explore tunes that have a defined melodic centre. The riffs that move in and out of focus in his soloing and the ways the chord structures seem to cry out for a theme to stitch them together could represent another direction for his music to explore.