Matthew Halsall – Bright Sparkling Light

No leftovers

It’s super hard not to like Matthew Halsall. And at least difficult to not like his music. The amount of pleasantness, friendliness and joyful bliss that emanates from his band when they’re on stage is enormous. Especially in a wonderful little jazz club like Moods in Zurich. Just the right size, giving you a feeling of being at a family gathering, allowing post-gig encounters when the newly acquired vinyl is signed – Halsall and his friends are just the right band for such a caring and lovely environment.

Such a fine evening too. It was my first Halsall concert and I loved everything about it. So much that I had to approach some of the musicians afterwards to shake their hands and say thanks. It’s hard to put the praise in adequate words without sounding like a dork. I remember telling the pianist how impressed I was. I said something about how he had looked so unimposing behind his little Nord, like a schoolboy ready to get a piano lesson, only to effortlessly show what a bright sparkling light he is on keys. He laughed – after a second of surprise and slight bewilderment about my schoolboy remark. I think I did get my point across though. Yes, I was deeply impressed. Thank you, Jasper Green. And sorry for my weird analogy.

I also vehemently shook the hand of Alan Taylor, wondering if Krupa must have had a twin brother who spent a few decades in some cryogenic contraption to blow us away half a century later. Amazing guy with tons of energy that might seem like a slightly too intense selection for a band that is so far on the contemplative side of Jazz, but no, fits like a glove, and his solo moments that evening left everyone shaking their heads in grinning disbelief. Thank you, Alan Taylor, and thank you, Matthew Halsall for choosing him.

When it came to having our vinyl signed after the concert, folks were lining up and chatting happily while finishing their beers, and I almost bought a third vinyl issue of “An Ever Changing View”, but then I saw this little EP, understanding it’s available exclusively on that tour, so I obviously opted for that one, taking the opportunity to share a few words with the man himself. Positive, friendly, patient and polite, just the way you would have imagined him to be.

The concert was on a Saturday night. Wonderful timing. Simply because this EP is perfect for Sundays. Like it was made for them.

I took it for a spin some time in the afternoon. November. Absolutely quiet day, neighbors being away for the weekend. I could turn it up a little. Now – I didn’t really expect anything spectacular, this is an EP filled with material from the sessions that led to “An Ever Changing View”, which easily lets you think, okay I get it, material that was sort of left over, the tracks that didn’t make the cut, like a collection of B-sides.

No idea what Halsall’s thinking might have been behind the whole project, what to select, what to leave out, what to put on this EP. The three tracks on this EP are easily on par with the material that made the album. As a matter of fact, if anyone had given me a chance to listen to all of the pieces on both of these releases and asked me which three tracks would not make the cut for the album, these three titles would not have been chosen. No way.

The effect was beautiful. I couldn’t have hoped for a more lovely soundtrack for a really, really nice Sunday afternoon. Such a big surprise, and I remember thinking how the hell could this music not make the album? How is it possible that these three pieces are put on an EP that would be sold I don’t know how many times, but probably not beyond a thousand or two.

I wasn’t the only one who was amazed by what this EP had to offer. Gondwana seems to have been bombarded with requests for it, leading to a decision to get another 2.000 pressed and sold via Bandcamp. Nor surprise: these are all sold out as well.

So, whatever the pieces on “Bright Sparkling Light” may be – they are not the leftovers. When I listened to them the first time that Sunday, I immediately thought that they aren’t just united by not having been selected for the album, or by simply being thrown together here – they absolutely make sense as an ensemble. They belong together. It’s a mini-album. Not three pieces, a lovely set of triplets.

It’s simply thoroughly enjoyable music. The carefully crafted percussional loops, sounding as natural as they can be, laid out with just the right energy, not making it necessary for them to slip much into the background when the solo work rises, weaving on top of what sounds like what we see on the album, a tapestry adorned with different shapes of vibrant colors, supporting the melodies that characterize the single pieces.

The title track wins me over already, lush and lovely, like the start of a particularly good day, making you feel that nothing will be able to disturb the peacefully positive mood that you feel warming your body already. “Newborough Forest” adds more life to the morning, lots of fresh air, an upbeat and effortlessly confident stroll accompanied by thoughts and feelings, things lying ahead, all at ease with yourself.

As mentioned above – it’s hard not to like Matthew Halsall and his music, and “The Tide And The Moon” makes it impossible. Ten minutes full of warmth and care, you listen to this and you feel like this guy knows what you need to hear to make your moment an even more precious one.

Needless to say that the solo work is outstanding, not just by Halsall but equally so by Matt Cliffe on flute and saxophone – but all of that wouldn’t work without Gavin Barrass’ beautifully warm bass, the rich layers of percussion full of chimes, kalimbas, marimbas – never too sparse, never too dominant, harp and piano completing some kind of emotional fabric that has you enjoying the moment. And when the moment is right you can literally feel things falling off of you. Or rather sliding. Vanishing, dispersing.

It’s all good. Really good. Makes you hope Halsall and his friends will never ever leave anything off another album. There are no leftovers.

Release for review:

Listen in here: Click
Try to get the vinyl on Discogs: Click
Buy the album here: Click