Welcome to the fifth volume of Salt Peanuts, a monthly newsletter showcasing the best jazz, funk, soul, afrobeat, and world music! This month we’re featuring Matthew Halsall and new releases by Alfa Mist and Kneebody. Click here to check out the full Volume 5 Spotify playlist.
If you’d like to receive this is a monthly email, subscribe here: http://eepurl.com/b3vTbL
Artist of the Month
(Spotlight on a Salt Peanuts favorite)
Top Albums: Fletcher Moss Park | When the World Was One | On The Go
I recently decided to try to align featured artists to the seasons as best I can (sorry, Southern hemisphere friends) since I’ve always believed the effect of music to be inextricably linked to one’s external surroundings. And as a trumpet player myself, I may be (read: definitely am) partial to featuring artists who weave narratives from behind the horn. Roast me all you like, but I’d argue that it’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I present Matthew Halsall as Exhibit A. Halsall’s music is perfectly suited for the transition from winter to spring, with a world-conscious sound heavily influenced by the spirituality of Alice Coltrane, elegant string choruses, and long, meditative solo passages.
A trumpeter, bandleader, and DJ hailing from Manchester, Halsall’s star has been steadily rising on the UK scene hand-in-hand with greater international exposure thanks to tastemaker Gilles Peterson’s high praise. Peterson – who made a name for himself DJ-ing jazz, latin fusion, tropicália, and soul during the ’70s and ’80s at legendary underground sessions across London clubs – now hosts an event called the Worldwide Awards, at which Halsall won best jazz LP in 2011 for On The Go.
As much as I love On The Go for the pulsing “Music for a Dancing Mind” (that brings to mind Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia”) or the soporific “Samatha”, Fletcher Moss Park is Halsall at his absolute best. Beautifully composed from start to finish, his 2012 release deserves to be listened to in one sitting, a whiskey in one hand accompanied by a heavy dose of staring out the window contemplatively (stroke that beard if you’ve got it, too). Though obviously free of lyrics, one can infer the prose on “Cherry Blossom” and heavy introspection that tints “Finding My Way”.
As talented as a musician Halsall is, he does not always go it alone. The album When the World Was One was recorded with the Manchester-based Gondwana Orchestra, whose secret to their unique, harmonious sound lies in the instrumentation. In addition to a traditional rhythm section and soprano sax, the band features a harp, the bansuri flute (common in North Indian or Hindustani classical music), and the koto (a Japanese stringed instrument similar to a zither). The combination of eclectic instruments paints a far-east backdrop for the musicians to solo over, with Halsall usually taking the lead and building his narrative first. The title track, “Falling Water”, “Patterns”, and “Tribute to Alice Coltrane” are easy favorites.
Check out the full Volume 5 playlist for my three favorite Matthew Halsall albums, as well as two reinterpretations of Alice Coltrane songs – “Journey in Satchidananda” and “Blue Nile”. With most of Halsall’s songs extending past the 6-minute mark (and often to 9 or 10 minutes), each composition is a mini-tale in itself, part of the larger journey each album embarks on.
(The freshest new singles, EPs, and albums on the scene)
Alfa Mist – Antiphon
A UK-heavy lineup this month, with a new release from East London pianist and producer Alfa Mist. Alfa Mist excels in the post-bop neo-soul space, bringing together a highly talented group of musicians whose groove hits hardest on the two 10+ minute tracks, “Keep On” and “Errors”. Both tunes start with some spoken word and a standard jazz head, but quickly evolve into exciting, extended solos from trumpet to keys to guitar to saxophone. As tight as “Keep On” and “Errors” both are, “Breathe” is the highlight compositionally for me, elevating the established post-bop to a more cinematic level with vocals from Kaya Thomas-Dyke and a haunting string section soon after the 5:00 mark.
Highlights: “Keep On”, “Errors”, “Breathe”, “Nucleus”
Kneebody – Anti-Hero
I’ll be up front with it – Kneebody isn’t for everyone. If the first track – “For the Fallen” – off their new release Anti-Hero is any indication, Kneebody often produces bottled chaos, fusing sinister keyboard soundscapes with adventurous horn solos and complex, pounding beats. “Profar” may be a good starting point – easier on the ears than some other tracks. On the flip, if you’re willing to dive into the Grammy-nominated band’s experimental sound, give “Drum Battle” a shot. Reinterpreted from their last album Kneedelus, it lulls listeners into a false narrative with a cheeky horn + drum intro before descending into distorted keys and heavily syncopated melodies. From the 5:30 mark onwards, the true greatness of Kneebody is on full display: a wild drum solo by Nate Wood that surely sounds like three full-grown men on one set followed by saxophonist Ben Wendel wailing on top.
Wendel also goes absolutely nuts on “Yes You”, essentially a 6+ minute solo for one of the best sax players on the scene. The final track on the album is a somber tribute to Austin Peralta, a prodigious jazz pianist who died in 2012 at just 22 years old. With arguably the most talent of any active jazz group, Kneebody is through and through a band of musician’s musicians – at times inaccessible, but reliably releasing music at the highest level. Oh, and bassist Kaveh Rastegar was in La La Land…so at least there’s that connection to the mainstream.
Highlights: “For the Fallen”, “Drum Battle”, “Profar”, “Carry On”, “Yes You”
(One-off miscellaneous favorites)
Son Little – “Lay Down”
The soulful alias of Aaron Livingston, Son Little brings to mind the soul legends of the ’60s and ’70s (see: Green, Al and Cooke, Sam) with the bluesy, vintage, soporific “Lay Down”.
The O’My’s – “Cough Drop”
Very much in the same vein as Son Little, “Cough Drop” by The O’My’s – two Chicago-based producers with strong ties to Chance the Rapper – functions as a throwback to better days. Y’know, pre- media-suppressing, climate-destroying, election-meddling days.
House of Waters – “Clean Peace”
An instrumental trio of a hammered dulcimer, a six-string bass, and various percussion – and dubbed “the most original band on the planet” by NY Music Daily – House of Waters repeatedly destroys conventional music boundaries.
Shin Joong Hyun – “Beautiful Woman”
A little further out there, but since we’re all about expanding musical horizons, here’s a funky tune from Korea’s “Godfather of Rock”, Shin Joong Hyun, beset with Jimi Hendrix-like grooves and imploring vocals.
The Short List
(A space for sometimes relevant, sometimes collaborative, and sometimes unrelated content)
Orca Minor – Phase Love
Orca Minor’s debut LP, Phase Love, was recorded over the course of almost two years in dorm rooms, radio studios, Brooklyn bedrooms, and ex-milk bottling factories. The compositional brainchild of guitarist / drummer / vocalist Zach Calluori and co-production of Sahil Ansari, Phase Love takes the density and energy of groove-rock and blends it with an eclectic jazz and R&B sensibility, creating deep soulful grooves and soaring, distorted improvisations, supported by a moody and throbbing rhythm section.
The track “Honest Love” is a standout on the album, growing from a pounding groove into a lyrical anthem with swirling harmonies, culminating in a warped and wobbly saxophone solo by Eli Aleinikoff. “Painted Lips”, another fan favorite, shows the funkier side of the album. A dynamic and nostalgic song, “Painted Lips” is both unrelenting in its groove and versatile in its textures, reminiscent of Thundercat with its filtered bass and Motown harmony with its layered vocals. The album ends with “Arcade”, a chopped-and-screwed broken speakers mix featuring Cam Johnson on drums, Paul Bloom on organ, and an accidental guitar loop, all falling into place as a dizzying and faded coda for the release.