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Tori Freestone Trio

El Barranco


by Ian Mann

August 08, 2016


Freestone has established a remarkable mastery over the border territory where composition meets improvisation and her trio's collective sound is consistently intelligent and increasingly unique.

Tori Freestone Trio

“El Barranco”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4689)

“El Barranco” is the second album as a leader by the multi-talented Tori Freestone. Born in London she studied flute at Leeds College of Music before returning to the capital and becoming a hugely respected figure on the London jazz scene.

As well as leading her own trio Freestone has previously appeared in the Jazzmann web pages in a variety of settings, playing flute with trumpeter Rory Simmons’ large ensemble Fringe Magnetic and with bassist Riaan Vosloo’s Examples Of Twelves, tenor sax and flute with pianist Ivo Neame’s quintet and octet and co-leading the quartet Compassionate Dictatorship with guitarist Jez Franks. Other credits include the London Jazz Orchestra, the Creative Jazz Orchestra, Jamil Sheriff Big Band, E17 Large Ensemble and the Cuban group Orquestra Timbala. Freestone recently featured playing soprano sax and flute on “A New Start”, the well received new album by the Pete Hurt Jazz Orchestra. Currently she is a member of the sextet Solstice, featuring Franks and vocalist Brigitte Beraha and also performs in a duo with pianist Alcyona Mick. Freestone is also part of a stellar new sextet led by American born, London based, trumpeter and composer Andre Canniere.

“El Barranco” is the follow up to Freestone’s well received début “In The Chop House” which was released on Whirlwind in 2014. Both albums feature the same trio line up with Freestone joined by long term collaborators Dave Manington (double bass) and Tim Giles (drums). On the first album Freestone specialised exclusively on tenor sax and this remains her principal instrument here but one piece also features her singing and violin playing as she pays homage to her folk music roots.

The music of the Freestone trio operates in the shadowy hinterland between composition and improvisation as the musicians seek to blur the boundaries between structure and freedom. The long established rapport that Freestone, Manington and Giles have created allows them to improvise fluidly and fluently around an intriguing selection of material that includes four original pieces from Freestone, two more from the pen of Manington, one jazz standard and two very different interpretations of the traditional folk tune “The Press Gang”.

The album commences with Freestone’s title track which is inspired by El Barranco de Masca, the beautiful mountainous terrain of Tenerife.  Indeed it’s Freestone’s accomplished pastel drawings of the region that adorn the album’s cover. The music itself emphasises the highly democratic nature of the group with Manington introducing the tune on double bass, his tone big and resonant, his fingering dexterous and melodic. Giles’ percussion shadows him subtly and unobtrusively, these two really are a great team. Freestone’s tenor subsequently joins the proceedings, floating easily and airily around the rhythmic framework created by her colleagues. She probes gently and melodically as the music unfolds, then gradually digs in deeper as Giles abandons brushes for sticks as the music temporarily acquires a greater intensity.

Traditional folk music is part of Freestone’s family background and she has also been influenced by the Manchester based trumpeter and composer Neil Yates, having once been a member of Yates’ large ensemble The N-Circle Orchestra. Yates’ recent work has exhibited a strong folk influence, particularly that of Irish traditional music, and something of this has transferred itself to Freestone. Her two interpretations of the traditional folk tune “The Press Gang” came about as the result of a commission by promoters Serious for the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival. The first version of the piece, scheduled as track two, is an atmospheric jazz arrangement featuring Freestone’s folk tinged, vaguely Garbarek like, tenor alternately declaiming and ruminating above a backdrop of melancholy arco bass plus the rumble of mallets and the shimmer of percussion. Manington eventually puts down the bow to deliver a pithy pizzicato solo before the piece resolves itself with a more freely structured episode featuring Freestone in improvised conversation with the mallet wielding Giles.

Also from the Serious commission “Identity Protection” begins with the threesome in more orthodox saxophone trio territory as Freestone improvises vivaciously around an arresting, Rollins like hook. However this is not a trio that likes to stay in one place for too long and consequently there are more impressionistic, freely structured episodes as the musicians press deeper into improvised territory. They eventually generate considerable power in the process as Freestone solos in full blooded fashion above the chatter of Giles’ drums and Manington’s anchoring bass.

The Arthur Altman jazz standard “All Or Nothing At All” is skilfully de-constructed by the players. Freestone’s warm, breathy, conversational tenor sax tone retains something of the spirit of the song but the trio transport the tune into previously uncharted harmonic and rhythmic waters as their playing becomes increasingly exploratory and adventurous. There’s a typically excellent solo from Manington who is subtly underscored by Freestone’s tenor allied to the delightful colour and detail of Giles’ drumming. 

Manington’s bass introduces his own “Challenger Deep”, his strummed motif forming the basis of the tune with Freestone making effective use of multiphonics as she explores the lower reaches of the tenor’s range. There’s also a passage featuring the composer’s bass accompanied only by Giles’ evocative cymbal work. Elsewhere the drummer’s mallet rumbles lock in with Manington’s bass to produce a compulsive, if somewhat lugubrious groove. Although presumably named in honour of saxophonist Tom Challenger there are moments when the music reminds me of something Polar Bear might have attempted in the period before they became increasingly reliant upon electronics.

Also by Manington is “Quetzalcoatlus”,  a composition named after a large prehistoric flying animal. The is a sharper, spikier affair, reminiscent, perhaps, of the music of Ornette Coleman.
The trio improvise in lively fashion and their interplay is particular vivid as Freestone and Manington share the lead around seamlessly. Giles provides neatly energetic commentary and punctuation, his playing subtly nuanced and full of delightful small details.

Freestone’s “A Charmed Life” is introduced by Manington’s unaccompanied bass, his thoughtful ruminations subsequently joined by the glacial shimmer of brushes on cymbals and the sound of Freestone’s pensive but eloquent tenor. The music gradually grows in intensity as the leader stretches out and probes deeply and fluently before the piece resolves itself with a return to its gentler origins.

Also by Freestone “Cross Wired” is generally a livelier affair with a breezy, folk tinged melody providing the basis for a series on inventive group exchanges that offer further evidence of just what an interactive, finely tuned unit this trio is. Freestone’s mercurial sax improvisations evoke a spirited response from her two colleagues who handle some pretty complex rhythm parts with acumen, conviction and invention.

The album closes with a tantalising glimpse of a very different side of Freestone’s talent. Here she puts down the tenor, picks up the violin and lifts her voice to deliver the lyrics of “The Press Gang”. She’s accompanied by Manington on bass, both bowed and plucked, but this primarily a folk performance and is very different to what has gone before. Scheduled as it is at the conclusion of the album it works very well and offers a brief snapshot of Tori Freestone’s parallel musical universe. “In the Chop House” featured a jazz arrangement of the traditional Irish folk song “My Lagan Love” plus an instrumental interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” but Freestone has never absorbed herself so fully in folk music as here, at least not on disc.

“El Barranco” is a worthy follow up to “In the Chop House” and the album shows Freestone and her colleagues still refining their sound. The familiar virtues are here, thoughtful writing and arranging, adventurous collective improvising and a well balanced trio sound with some superb interaction between the players. At times the trio can generate a surprising collective power and there’s the sense of a controlled, delicate strength running throughout the music at all times.

Freestone and her colleagues have established a remarkable mastery over the border territory where composition meets improvisation and their collective sound is consistently intelligent and increasingly unique with the folk elements a particularly distinctive component.

The Tori Freestone Trio have a number of UK tour dates scheduled for the autumn of 2016 which will give listeners the opportunity to appreciate their music first hand. Performances are scheduled as below;

4 September - Milestones Jazz Club Lowestoft
8 September - The Vortex
27 September - Ashburton Live
28 September -Dempseys, Cardiff
7 October - Bebop Club, @ The Bear, Bristol
9 October - Marsden Jazz Festival, Marsden, Huddersfield
3 November - Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells
31 Jan 2017 - Oxford Jazz Society, The Mad Hatter, Oxford
5 Feb 2017 - Colchester Arts Centre

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