Matthew Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra ft. Josephine Oniyama and Dwight Trible @ Islington Assembly Hall. EFG London Jazz Festival – November 14
Matthew Halsall (trumpet); Jordan Smart (sax/flute); Taz Modi (piano); Amanda Whiting (harp); Gavin Barras (bass); Luke Flowers (drums). + Josephine Oniyama & Dwight Trible (voice)
(Review by Peter Jones).
They should have named it – Before and after Dwight.
Before: it’s a packed house, as Halsall and his band settle into a mellow, somewhat spaced-out vibe, based on simple grooves rather than chord sequences. This music is clearly influenced by the other-worldliness favoured by the likes of Pharaoh Sanders, Carla Bley and Alice Coltrane.
Beginning with a stately, Indian-flavoured tune, Jordan Smart’s flute and Amanda Whiting’s harp take the lead roles. The Orchestra then strike up a number in 6/8, and for the first time we are treated to the beautifully clear, vibrato-free tone of Halsall’s trumpet. Spacy, ethereal harp twinkles and shimmers on the next, a lengthy modal piece, Taz Modi thrumming the strings of his piano. And the next tune is even more minimalist, leading one to speculate that these lovely meditative numbers are probably born of free jamming that goes on for hours. It promotes a pleasant mood of groovy introspection.
Whiting can make her harp sound like a guitar on its lower strings, and sometimes piano and harp don’t quite manage to keep out of each other’s way (a familiar issue when it’s piano and guitar) – not that it really matters with music that flows like this.
Five tunes have gone by before Matthew Halsall speaks to the audience for the first time, to introduce singer Josephine Oniyama. She does a nice job with a tune called As I Walk, Halsall kneeling to play pre-recorded vocal harmonies from some box of tricks on the floor.
After: one more song from Oniyama, and off she goes, to be replaced, with slow and deliberate tread, by singer Dwight Trible, a gentleman of a certain vintage, with white beard and knitted Rasta hat. The band launches into John Coltrane’s Wise One, as presented with Trible’s own lyrics on his 2006 masterpiece Living Water.
Yes, masterpiece. Because Dwight Trible is a singer like no other. A human conduit to the celestial spirit, he makes the walls tremble with transcendent energy-waves. Arms aloft, he is soon testifyin’ and hollerin’, his bass-baritone larynx vibrating with passion, and it jolts the audience back into full consciousness. Continuing with another tune from Living Water – Bill Lee’s John Coltrane – Trible soon has the audience singing along. He delivers a final killer punch with Burt Bacharach’s What the World Need Now is Love. Not happy-clappy, though: it’s deadly serious, and all on one chord. This is Dwight’s response to the unfolding horror on the other side of the Atlantic.
The Gondwana Orchestra are great, but by the time they get to the encores, Dwight has completely taken over their gig, and won a lot of new fans on the way.
A new album of collaborations between Dwight Trible and the Gondwana Orchestra is planned for release in 2017.