Eastern influences reap rich rewards for jazz star Matthew Halsall

Matthew Halsall. Picture: Simon Hunt

Matthew Halsall. Picture: Simon Hunt - Credit: Archant

Over the course of five acclaimed albums, Manchester-based musician Matthew Halsall has carved out a niche on the UK music scene – last year even winning the iTunes Jazz Album Of The Year 2014 award for his latest record, When The World Was One. Here, he answers our questions ahead of his show at Kings Place on January 24.

When The World Was One has picked up some fantastic reviews – even landing the iTunes Jazz Album Of The Year 2014 award. Did you expect it to make such a splash and how do you deal with such acclaim?

I’m always surprised to hear people like my music. I’ve always tried to keep it as honest as possible, reflecting my life and personality, this makes winning any awards extra special. I think it’s also important to thank the musicians who worked with me on this record. It’s definitely been a team effort as they’ve helped me capture the ideas in my head. Receiving such recognition definitely gives myself, and the band more confidence to continue working together on future projects.

Your travels in the East seem to have left a lasting impression on your work. How do you think its musical culture differs to the West’s?

A lot of the Eastern music I’m drawn to seems to reflect the spiritual and meditative side of Eastern culture and I guess that’s what I am interested in. I studied transcendental meditation in my teens followed by Buddhist meditation and I guess I became attracted to a lot of spiritual music from the East which fitted in with my moods and personality. I think a lot of Eastern instruments sound beautiful over improvised compositions; in particular I love the sound of the Indian bansuri flutes and Japanese kotos. I also like the restrictions these instrument have, for instance the koto can only be tuned to certain scales, forcing the Western musicians to create music in a completely different way.


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Your label, Gondwana Records, has given a chance to rising stars such as Mercury Prize nominees GoGo Penguin and Mammal Hands, who are supporting these dates. What do you look for when selecting acts?

I’ve always just gone with my guts. I’m not in a rush to sign hundreds of artists, but if I hear one I really like I will sign them and give them 100% support. I think the thing that attracted me most to both GoGo Penguin and Mammal Hands was the open mindedness. Both bands had a really broad range of influences, which gave them a real interesting edge.

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How do you think jazz has evolved since the turn of the century?

I think jazz has and will always evolve, as it’s a very open-minded genre. A lot of artists are combining jazz with other genres such as classical, ambient, electronica or say hip-hop and this has attracted new audiences to the genre.

In my opinion all art forms should evolve, otherwise life would be pretty boring and predictable. Something that is important to me is the ability artists have is to find a way of merging the masters of the past with current trends to create something that has true longevity, but also feels fresh.

The influence of John and Alice Coltrane pops up often in your music. What do they mean to you and why do they continue to grow in reputation?

Both artists have created a broad range of beautiful honest music, full of character and personality and this type of music will always be timeless. They have captured their life journeys perfectly in their music and this gives the listener such a deep feeling of being connected to the artist. I feel the reason their music has grown in reputation is because it’s like a musical biography of their lives and when you add all the chapters it becomes extra special.

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