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GONDWANA

Captivating, ethereal and majestic, Mammal Hands (saxophonist Jordan Smart, pianist Nick Smart and drummer and percussionist Jesse Barrett) has carved out a refreshingly original sound from a disparate array of influences: drawing on spiritual jazz, north Indian, folk and classical music to create something inimitably their own. Hailing from Norwich, one of Britain's most isolated and most easterly cities, they have forged their own path away from the musical mainstream and their unique sound grew out of long improvised rehearsals. All three members contibute equally to the writing process: one that favours the creation of a powerful group dynamic over individual solos. Their records are entrancing and beautiful affairs, while their hypnotic live shows have seen them hailed as one of the most exciting bands in Europe as they push their unique line-up to the outer limits of its possibilities.

Shadow Work is their third album and the first they have self-produced. Recorded at 80 Hertz Studios, Gondwana Records home from home in Manchester, it is the result of 18 months of intensive touring and mammoth writing sessions. The energy from their exhilarating live performances has fed into the writing process and yet there is a quiet reflective side to this album, giving it an expanded emotional range that draws the listener deep into Mammal Hand's sound world. One that builds on the sound of their previous recordings, Animalia and the beautiful Floa, but is wider than ever, with the use of prepared piano strings, more prominent effects and field recordings all adding to the band's most ambitious and accomplished album to date. The striking artwork is by Daniel Halsall and reflects the organic, natural influences underpinning the band's music alongside a darker, modern minimalism.

STAFF COMMENTS

Millie says: Shadow Work providing all the ambient jazz vibes you could possibly need, fans of Gogo Penguin (off the same label) will really like this.

Mercury Prize-nominated Portico Quartet have always been an impossible band to pin down. Sending out echoes of jazz, electronica, ambient music and minimalism, the group created their own singular, cinematic sound over the course of three studio albums, from their 2007 breakthrough 'Knee-Deep in the North Sea', and 2010 John Leckie produced 'Isla', to the self titled record 'Portico Quartet' in 2012. Now rebooted as Portico Quartet after a brief spell as the three-piece Portico, the group's fourth album is on shop favourite, Matthew Halsall's, Gondwana records. Heralding a return to their mesmeric signature sound but also featuring fresh new sonic departures, the band's comeback was so eagerly anticipated that their four-night run at London's Archspace in June, sold out in less than an hour.

STAFF COMMENTS

David says: Released on shop favourite, Matthew Halsall’s Gondwana label, Portico Quartet’s fourth album ‘Art In The Age Of Automation’ is a mesmeric, neo classical masterpiece. Sometimes the neo classical tag can be more of an insult than a compliment, bringing to mind Debenhams at dinner time piano, or the soundtrack to a documentary about the retreat from Stalingrad. Portico Quartet however, sidestep these comparisons by looking towards their contemporaries, visionaries like Floating Points and the more electronic moments of Radiohead, are as much of an influence as classic ambient artists such as Steve Reich and Brian Eno. ‘Art In The Age Of Automation’ is a genuinely beautiful listening experience. A languid journey through the full spectrum of sound, bookended by the rise and fall of the sun, melodies reflecting in its rays as the world, for these brief moments at least, let’s us drift away together in some kind of hard won harmony.

Matthew Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra

When The World Was One

Over the course of four albums, Manchester based trumpeter, composer, arranger and band-leader Matthew Halsall has carved out a niche for himself on the UK music scene as one of its brightest talents. His languid, soulful music has won friends from Jamie Cullum and Gilles Peterson to Jazz FM and Mojo as well as an ever-growing international following. His label Gondwana Records is home to GoGo Penguin and his own albums have found Halsall exploring the modal jazz of John and Alice Coltrane, paying tribute to the hard bop of the late '50s and early '60s or most recently on 'Fletcher Moss Park' drawing on Eastern influences in his most personal statement yet. His latest album 'When The World Was One' is something of a companion piece to 'Fletcher Moss Park' (much of the music was written at the same time) but draws more explicitly on Halsall's love of spiritual jazz and Eastern music as well as his own studies in meditation and travels in Japan. Beautifully recorded at Hasall's favourite studio, 80 Hertz in Manchester, and engineered by Brendan Williams and George Atkins it features the recording debut of Halsall's large ensemble, The Gondwana Orchestra, which utilises the exotic flavours of harp, koto and bansuri flute and Eastern scales to create a global palate for Halsall's life-affirming sounds.

The Gondwana Orchestra features long time collaborators Nat Birchall, saxophone, Gavin Barras, bass and Rachael Gladwin, harp as well as Taz Modi on piano. Modi who also plays with Halsall in their more electronic trio shares his passion for spiritual jazz and plays the music with real feeling while the role of the harp here is to bring a touch of 'magical reality' a floating dreaminess that is a vital part of Halsall's elegiac and beautiful music. The drummer Luke Flowers is perhaps best known as part of Cinematic Orchestra, and Halsall describes him as 'one of the best drummers in the world' and hails him for 'playing the music exactly as I heard it in my head', Keiko Kitamura is a Japanese Koto player who is becoming an increasingly important part of the Gondwana Orchestra, her role is similar to Gladwin's in that the koto helps free up the music while also bringing a real sound of the East. Finally, flautist Lisa Mallett brings a love of Indian music to the orchestra, much travelled on the continent she brings all of her knowledge and experience to play offering a unique texture to Halsall's dreamy melodies.

Phil France

The Swimmer


France of Cinematic Orchestra fame has just signed a three album deal with Gondwana and is currently working on new material for release in Autumn 2017, but first up is a worldwide re-release for his debut solo recording, The Swimmer, a beautiful beguiling "soundtrack" for a film that hasn't been made yet.
Originally released in October 2013 it sounds even better now than it did then, deeply emotive and epic in scale it draws it influences from the great second wave of film composers including John Carpenter and Vangelis, as well as minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass. France's skill, in this album, as well as his work with The Cinematic Orchestra, is in soundtracking human emotion - The Swimmer is full of heartbreak and recovery, strength, honesty and frailty, it is meditative and hopeful and, in our opinion, you might not hear a better album this year.



STAFF COMMENTS

David says: Sounding even better now than it did when it was originally released in 2013, this is an unparalleled work of beauty that every home should own.

Manchester has produced some of the UK's greatest rock bands from Joy Division to the Stone Roses, but it isn't just the indie scene that thrives here, from the likes of Jon Thorne and Stuart McCallum to the Beats & Pieces Big Band and trumpeter Matthew Halsall, Manchester's jazz scene has produced some of the UK's brightest and most original jazz groups. Now with its eighth release Matthew Halsall's Manchester based Gondwana record label shines a light on another of Manchester's expansive, brilliant piano trio GoGo Penguin. Featuring pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Grant Russell and drummer Rob Turner (all still in their twenties), GoGo Penguin, draw on a heady brew of influences from Aphex Twin to Brian Eno, Debussy to Shostakovich and Massive Attack to EST.

STAFF COMMENTS

David says: GoGo Penguin have a terrible name admittedly but don't let that put you off. Signed to Matthew Halsall's Manchester based label, Gondwana, this is their first (and best) album. Piano heavy and big with Gilles. Essential.


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