MATTHEW HALSALL //

Ronnie Scott’s | January 24th

Virtuoso trumpeting sensation Matthew Halsall ensured he will remain well in front of the chasing pack again this year after an incredible full-house gig during which he revealed a clutch of new tracks and featured the koto – an ancient Japanese instrument seldom heard in Europe.

It is an exotic, wonderful and captivating object dating back to 700AD. The koto’s 13 strings are plucked horizontally and it’s magical to behold, let alone listen to. Manchester-based Halsall chose this concert at Ronnie Scott’s to introduce it – and some fresh material – to his audience.

His timing was well judged. Mid-way through his top-billing set at the famous Soho jazz venue, after Halsall’s more-regular quartet – joined by harpist Rachael Gladwin, who provides an enchanting liquidity to his modal jazz – had wowed the capacity crowd with the first five tracks of his acclaimed 2011 album On The Go, the behatted (and more-recently bearded) maestro announced: “There should be a couple of other musicians joining us now.”

The 29-year-old looked around hopefully, and before long silver-haired Clive Bell hopped on to the stage with a grin, armed with his Japanese flute. “There should be one more,” Halsall offered bashfully. Five seconds or so passed before Keiko Kitamura, dressed cap-à-pie in a stunning kimono, breezed past us and settled herself over her koto.

The Hiroshima Prefecture-born Kitamura started alone, listeners shifted forward in their chairs to gain a better view, instantly mesmerised by the rich, haunting melody being strung out. The rest of the band – jaunty pianist Taz Modi, Rob Turner (also of GoGo Penguin) on the sticks, double-bassist Gavin Barras – joined in, before Halsall uncoiled from his ducked-down crouching position and blew us away.

Just as we thought the night had reached its peak, Halsall beckoned Zara McFarlane, the evening’s earlier performer, back on to sing another new track entitled When The World Was One.

In his four solo albums – the last of which, Fletcher Moss Park, he released on his own Gondwana Records label in October – Halsall has never before used a singer, so the powerful McFarlane opened up yet another dimension to his growing spectrum of work and nudged his star a notch higher. It was a taste of what Halsall’s excited fans can expect later this year; a new direction which will indubitably be gobbled up by the taste maker Gilles Peterson and his cohorts. And deservedly so.

Peterson was in attendance at Ronnie Scott’s but slipped away before Halsall’s encore, a homage to one of his greatest influences, Alice Coltrane, the avant-garde spiritual jazz composer, second wife to saxophone extraordinaire John Coltrane and great-aunt to Flying Lotus. However, the BBC Radio 6Music presenter later took to Twitter to offer his congratulations to Halsall and thank him and McFarlane, whose debut album was produced by his Brownswood Recordings label, for “a stupendous night of music”. He added: “Kotos and harps = the future!”

The immediate future it may well be for Halsall, and we can’t wait to hear much more. Intriguingly, though, there are also whispers that he will concurrently be serving up more goodness on a completely different, electronic vibe. That’s all hush hush at the moment, but what’s for certain is that 2013 should further elevate this supremely talented musician’s reputation and rapidly increasing popularity.

 

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Words: Oliver Pickup (@CulturedClown)

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