Fletcher Moss Park – Matthew Halsall (2012, Gondwana Records)
This album is best described in my mind as memory jazz. It is characterised by a tender nostalgia, and never fails to communicate an innocent closeness to me. The trumpet playing has been described elsewhere as passive and tentative, but I think these descriptions miss the point of the understated and suggestive breathiness of Halsall’s playing. The opening and aptly named Cherry Blossom is a flourishing, elegant and warm-hearted introduction to the album, which counterposes a beautiful interplay of harp and piano with vocal and perhaps even conversational trumpet and saxophone melodies. During these latter parts, however, the sense of nostalgia is retained in sparsely-repeated piano and harp chords. The overall result on this opening track is one of contemplative, conscious and reflection.
As the album progresses, the shimmering undercurrents of emotion continue, swirling above the surface here, and dipping below it there. An example of this is the eponymous track, where the background rhythm section echoes the infinite depths of Melanie de Biasio. Aside from the willingness to communicate emotion, often in nondescript and vague modalities, there is a pervasive sensitivity and tenderness, as if the music were kind words to a loved one, of which only they would understand the meaning. This is especially prevalent in Mary Emma Louise (again aptly named), where the stepwise rising and then falling phrase endings – softly-tongued to the point of muted-ness by Halsall – generate a sense of comfortability and even intimacy, intermingled with a youthful excitement induced by the drumming.
The album is not perfect, however. This track seems to get a little tired of itself, despite the beautiful chord turns on the piano, and the presence of the two prelude-like tracks Sailing Out To Sea and Wee Lan (Little Orchid) is not quite justified and they appear rather abortive. Furthermore, the final track Finding My Way, although appropriately-titled for the end of the album, does not sound right as a closer, and the (amazingly well-played) scattered drumming prevents the piece from ever really getting going. I know this was probably Flower’s (the drummer) and Halsall’s intention, but it doesn’t sit right with me.
Despite these little cracks, this album speaks volumes to me and I always find it beautiful in a modest, homegrown sort of way. The track Sun In September is undoubtedly my favourite, and once again has been named perfectly. The nostalgic tenderness I mentioned before is brought to a head here, and further intensified by a sense of peaceful contentment. The golden, evening light of the September sun can be felt warmly and softly radiating through the softly lilting rhythm and harp, and is magnified by the gentle fluttering of the flute. The emotional peaks of the solo instrument leave the listener afloat on a euphoric sea of leaves, golden light and memory, before returning to the dreamlike timelessness of the closing of the year. Not only this, but the flute’s ethereal singing is lent a more grounded and articulated dimension by the trumpet section, which speaks with a soft insistence of a time passed but not forgotten.