It’s not a far-fetched notion to think of Gondwana as a modern-day equivalent to iconic jazz labels such as ECM or Blue Note. In fact, few labels currently hold as much sway in the genre as the British powerhouse. From contemplative Nordic jazz to transcendental spiritual jazz, Gondwana dominates certain musical niches in a quietly assertive way. Personally, I count them amongst my favorite labels operating at the moment, as every signing and every release just hits home with me over and over and over and over… (repeat ad infinitum).
Central to this meditative musical maelstrom is mastermind Matthew Halsall, label owner, composer, trumpeter, and all-around visionary artist who founded Gondwana in 2008. Growing from a vehicle for his own releases as well as talent he scouted in local venues into a full-blown worldwide operation, Halsall has stuck to his ethos of quality music. Casting his brother Daniel as the de facto art director of his label has offered both of them the chance to create a unified visual and musical aesthetic, which is paying off tremendously, as the Gondwana sound and design can be spotted immediately even from miles away.
Last month, Halsall released his seventh release as a band leader, the stunning spiritual jazz gem An Ever Changing View. It takes beloved staples of his sound, including the use of harp, flutes, mbira, bells, and other underappreciated jazz accoutrements, and infuses them with an even more urgent sense of purpose, all while retaining the same airy, ethereal spirit that carried his music further and further out into deep space since day one.
Birdsong, piano, and bass guide us into the floating world of An Ever Changing View, where the patient listener will hang in gentle suspension for the next 49 minutes as Halsall et al. unfurl their aural caressing across multiple planes of time and space. Sounds esoteric? Maybe so, but this music is so billowy and mystical that ordinary expressions wouldn’t do it justice in the slightest. This is a dance of instruments, hand in hand, round and round, to the sound of Halsall’s bright imagination. I’m genuinely amazed how he consistently composes music that’s both incredibly reticent and warmly inviting, formless yet infinitely concrete; a mingling of wind and shadows.
If I seem to be beating ever so gently around the bush, that’s because I am, dear reader. This is for two very distinct reasons: 1) to preserve your own personal entryway into the album and 2) because we all know very well what to expect from a Matthew Halsall record. An Ever Changing View hardly reinvents the wheel; it deftly adjusts a crooked spoke or two, applies a new coat of varnish, and sends the wagon on its merry way. For me, that’s more than enough.
This album is the sound of a late summer daydream; warm and comforting like the memory of your mother’s voice as she reads your favorite bedtime story to you. At the end of the day, you absolutely need to have an inclination for this specific kind of jazz – slow, meditative, richly adorned – to fully sink into An Ever Changing View, as has been the case with Halsall’s œuvre for most of his career, but if you do have it, boy will you get a kick out of this record. Ladies, gentlemen, and all the fine folks in between, we’re floating in space, and don’t it feel blissful?
Header image courtesy of Emily Dennison