Meet The Artist: Matthew Halsall

Matthew Halsall is one of the brightest stars on the UK jazz scene. With five albums already under his belt, his languid, soulful and deeply expressive playing has won him a legion of fans with critical praise from everyone from Jamie Cullum and Gilles Peterson to Jazz FM.

His last album When The World Was One was the iTunes jazz album of the year 2014while his follow up with The Gondwana Orchestra, Into Forever on  Gondwana Records was released earlier this month.

To coincide with the release of the album he is set to tour with his Eastern-tinged, hard grooving Gondwana Orchestra. As well as a string quartet and very special guest vocalist Josephine Oniyama, expect an intimate night of wonderful music in the company of some of the UK’s finest musicians.

What lead you to becoming a musician? 
My parents were really into music and as a child they encouraged me to listen to lots of different genres of music and took me to watch all types of live performances. They also gave me the opportunity to try all sorts of musical instruments, and after watching a jazz big band perform Miles Davis’s Milestones and Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night In Tunisia I fell in love with the trumpet.

Who or what has inspired you most on your musical journey? 
I draw a lot of inspiration from meditation and Buddhist philosophy. At around thirteen years old my parents moved house and I ended up attending a Maharishi School and began studying transcendental meditation and yoga alongside my GCSE’s. People have said that my music has meditative qualities.
Around the same time, I attended the school I got hooked on dj’ing through a friend and started listening to really eclectic dj mixes by Mr Scruff and Gilles Peterson and they introduced me to the music of Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby, Yusef Lateef, Leon Thomas, The Cinematic Orchestra, Mulatu Astatke, Don Cherry and many more.  
I also think that travelling has had an effect on my composing as I often think about a place I’ve been too and try to capture the feelings I had in that place and I’ve named a lot of my compositions after places I’ve been to.

Can you give us some background about your new album? 
My new album (Into Forever) started out as a studio album and my main focus was to challenge myself both as a composer and producer. I really wanted to learn without any restrictions in terms of line up, the instrumentation just had to complement the mood of the compositions and over two years it rapidly evolved into something really fresh and interesting.

You’re touring shortly are you looking forward to that? 
Yes I’m so happy to be able to take the Gondwana Orchestra on tour with me! It’s going to be so nice to hear all the instruments and vocals live on stage. This is a very rare opportunity for me as taking eleven musicians and a sound engineer on tour is not cheap!

What can people expect from your forthcoming gig at St George’s Bristol? 
Well the line up features myself on trumpet, Josphine Oniyama vocals, Jordan Smart saxophone/flute, Rachael Gladwin harp, Taz Modi piano, Gavin Barras double bass, Luke Flowers drums, Margit Van Der Zwan cello, Rhiannon James viola, Jote Osahn violin and Natalie Purton violin.
We’ll be performing two sets of original music crossing through genres such as jazz, soul, classical, folk and even library music. It’s really important to me that the sets are well balanced, with lots of variation in tempo, mood and instrumentation.

What are you enjoying listening to at the moment? 
I’ve been listening to The Cinematic Orchestra a lot, as I’m fascinated by Jason Swinscoe’s production, he often starts with couple of samples or loops from film soundtracks and then carefully selects musicians to jam over those loops and the tracks slowly evolve into something truly amazing and original. It’s a very time consuming process, but is well worth trying. I have used similar processes on my latest album. I would compose bass lines, piano, harp and string loops and then bring in a percussionist or drummer and work very closely on the groves. This really helps create more glue between the whole band and makes things feel a bit funkier.

For more information on Matthew and his music visit

Matthew Halsall plays St George’s, Bristol on October 15.

  • A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide during October 2015

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