The shape of British jazz has changed dramatically over the last 15 years; both in terms of its sound and the breadth of its appeal. This summer saw Ezra Collective pulling huge crowds at Glastonbury, for example, and Gilles Peterson’s We Out Here festival, with its usual jazz heavy line-up, has graduated to a bigger site this year to cope with demand. Myriad factors and many contributors are due credit for this swell in appreciation, among them the trumpeter, producer, composer and label boss Matthew Halsall. As the founder of Gondwana Records, operating since 2008, he has helped to encourage new ears to find the patience and imagination for a more spiritual, contemplative brand of jazz and soul.
With a diverse back catalogue stretching from GoGo Penguin’s self-styled cinematic universes to the dreamy synth drenched soul of Noya Rao, not to mention Halsall’s own sonically nomadic music, Gondwana’s scope has always been ambitious, with a curiosity for what musicians can do when given the freedom to experiment.
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“We are often drawn to artists who combine multiple genres to create something super fresh and we love artists whose music is full of personality and character and rich in soul and honesty,” Halsall tells me. His fervour follows right through to the physical product. “We are deeply invested in the whole recording, mixing and mastering process and feel it’s super important that everything is made to the highest possible quality sonically. This is also true of our approach to the visual side of things as well. We basically love the whole creative process of making records.”
Halsall was born in Manchester and has become a lynchpin of the city’s jazz scene, helping to foster and support talent close to home. “Over the many years we’ve been working in the city we’ve developed a beautiful network of creatives who live in and around Manchester and they are crucial to our evolution,” he says. “When I first started releasing records, I wanted to celebrate the amazing local talent I was hearing in and around Manchester and the North of England. I spent many hours listening to musicians at Matt & Phred’s Jazz Club Many of whom went on to release records on the label, such as Nat Birchall, Chip Wickham, John Ellis, Phil France and the guys from GoGo Penguin.”
Halsall’s own music has evolved as steadily as the scope of the label over the past 15 years. Gondwana has released eight of his albums altogether, charting his sonic development from modal jazz rooted in the UK tradition, through to a more open, spiritual sound, influenced by Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, pulling in contemporary instrumentation and trip-hop beats. His new record, An Ever Changing View, is breezy, meditative and full of summer.