Interview: Matthew Halsall

Matt HalsallManchester’s Matt Halsall doesn’t look like your typical jazz musician. But then again, his music doesn’t sound like traditional jazz  either.

He’s a trumpet player who takes as much inspiration from experimental labels like Warp and Ninja Tunes as much as more traditional jazz artists.

Since picking up the trumpet as a youth, Matt’s musical explorations have seen him fast become one of the brightest lights of UK jazz scene with a talent which has blossomed from album to album.

He released his fourth – Fletcher Moss Park – last year on his own Gondwana Records and received much love from the likes of DJ Giles Peterson and the Guardian’s John Fordham for his endeavours. It’s no surprise – the record is a beautiful ode to the park in south east Manchester where much of the record was written.

Both contemplative and often deceptively simple, the compositions’ elegance somehow perfectly capture his surroundings. You can almost smell the great outdoors in his music.

Outside of his band, Matt is a regular DJ around Manchester while he also finds time to run his fast rising label. Matt tells us the secrets behind his songwriting and why he’s trying to prevent the trumpet from dominating his music…

How did you first get into jazz?

My parents took me to a jazz club for a Sunday afternoon session and I saw a big band play music by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Art Blakey. They did Milestones and A Night In Tunisia and there are some heavy trumpet solos on those records. On stage, all these big band players had plenty of character to them. I told my parents there and then that I wanted to do what they do. Job done.

How do you write your music?

When I compose, I try to do it in a nice environment. I don’t tend to worry about instrumentation at that point. It’s all about melody.

I’ve become more confident over the years and try to not let the trumpet dictate my writing. So I’ve just been able to write and go with my gut feeling rather than have trumpet everywhere. It’s important for me that an album isn’t dominated by one sound. I’m much more interested in using different textures.

How is the recording process? 

The writing process is quite slow but I’ll write loads of songs before I record each album. I’ll have at least 30 tracks if not more. Then I’ll pick the best ones and record those. Certain tunes lend themselves to improvisation but the main section is all scored out. In the middle there will be a section which is ready for solos and interpretation by other musicians. They can add their own feelings to it.

My latest album is named after Fletcher Moss Park, which is literally five minutes from my house. When the weather was amazing, I wrote in the park on a laptop.

How is the jazz scene in Manchester

It’s a very exciting time for jazz in Manchester. There’s a younger generation coming through that have taken the sound into new and interesting places so I’m really excited about the next couple of years.

Many jazz bands and musicians in Manchester and across the north-west have grown up on DJs like Giles Peterson and Mr Scruff and labels like Warp and Ninja Tune. They are jazz musicians but they love other music as well. So they’re taking elements from these other more experimental sounds, putting them into a piano trio and making something which sounds both modern and fresh. It’s exactly how I feel jazz should be moving. It needs to be open to all possibilities and expanding – just like Mile Davies – he took the sound to loads of new and different places.

Do jazz albums have roles for musicians?

Yeah all my albums have sold 2,000 physical copies. There’s a very big digital market now which has at least tripled sales of my records. The average jazz bands are selling between 6,000 and 25,000 records. It’s definitely enough to survive off. Jazz sales have remained stable over the years in comparison to other genres.

Is there a good support network for new jazz talent?

There are a lot of jazz festivals and venues like Manchester’s Band on the Wall. They’ve supported young bands and given them opportunities to perform in front of large audiences. There’s Jazz Services. They put on various events to help support up and coming jazz artists in finding gigs and management. So in dribs and drabs there has been quite a lot of support.

I also run a label [Gondwana Records] as well as being a performer and composer – so I’m always working with young bands so when I hear something that I like I get behind it fully.

Are there any new musicians we should be looking out for?

The band I’ve signed recently – Go Go Penguin – they’ve recorded a new album in Wales and it sounds absolutely amazing. You can trace the influences back to Ninja Tunes and Warp and the drummer out of that band is very influenced by Squarepusher and Aphex Twin. He’s taken that and put it into an acoustic environment. What they’ve done sounds great.

For our generation to really get on board with jazz, it has to be influenced by the music we’ve grown up on and not just regurgitate the sounds of the past.

At the same time, we don’t want to lose the sense of the history. The best new jazz musicians are taking elements from all kinds of music and turning them into something both modern and fresh.

What’s next for you?

I’m always writing music. I’m doing a big album with lots of musicians. I’ve got a trio with a new name and a completely different project where we all compose together. This will hopefully come together next year. The trumpet will go through loops, delays, and space echo. I’m challenging myself to engage with modern technology.

What’s on your iPod at the moment?

Still people like the Cinematic Orchestra Portico Quartet. Go Go Penguin have had a big impact on what I do. Classic spiritual jazz musicians like Don Cherry and Philip Cohran as well as the releases on Jazzman records. I’m a DJ as well so the list goes all over the place. I could spend hours telling you…

www.matthewhalsall.com

Read our 30 Seconds interview with GoGo Penguin and our recent feature on the UK’s new jazz generation.