by Ian Mann
October 16, 2023
An excellent follow up to the acclaimed “Criss Cross”. The new album sees Freestone and Mick adopting a more experimental approach, while retaining the essential intimacy of the duo format.
Alcyona Mick and Tori Freestone
“Make One Little Room an Everywhere”
Alcyona Mick – piano, Tori Freestone – tenor sax, flute, triangle
with guest vocalists Brigitte Beraha and Natacha Atlas
“Make One Little Room An Everywhere” is the second album release from the duo of pianist Alcyona Mick and multi-instrumentalist Tori Freestone, a musician best known as a saxophonist and flautist.
It follows 2018’s acclaimed debut “Criss Cross”, which also included a guest contribution by vocalist Brigitte Beraha, Review here;
Mick and Freestone have worked together in various ensembles, including the London Jazz Orchestra, the Ingrid and Christine Jensen Big Band, Yazz Ahmed’s Polyhymnia Ensemble, Natacha Atlas Band, the Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra and the Cleo Laine/Alec Dankworth Band.
It was their casual duo explorations of Thelonious Monk tunes that encouraged Steve Mead, the artistic director of Manchester Jazz Festival to invite them to develop their partnership on a more formal basis for a performance at the 2015 MJF.
The success of the Manchester performance encouraged Mick and Freestone to continue their collaboration and their début album took its title from a Monk composition, but the majority of the material was original, with the members of the duo dividing the writing credits.
Alcyona Mick is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and played at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of the “Jerwood Rising Stars” series as far back as 2003. She subsequently formed her own quintet featuring trumpeter Robbie Robson, saxophonist Mark Hanslip, bassist Steve Watts and drummer Paul Clarvis, releasing the album “Under The Sun” in 2006. She and Clarvis subsequently teamed up with French born saxophonist Robin Fincker to form the improvising trio Blink, releasing albums on the Loop and Babel labels.
Other jazz ensembles with which Mick has worked include Rachel Musson’s Skein, Eddie Parker’s Debussy Mirrored ensemble, the John Warren Nonet and a trio featuring Clarvis and multi-instrumentalist Stuart Hall.
She also plays in another duo with Egyptian violinist and electronic musician Sammy Bishai. Mick has also been involved in numerous world music projects and has enjoyed a long tenure in the band of Anglo/Egyptian vocalist Natacha Atlas, a line up that also includes Bishai. She has also written and performed music for film and television, with an emphasis on silent film. She holds a Masters degree in Composing Music for Film from the National Film and Television School.
Mick is a member of Beraha’s Lucid Dreamers Quartet and appears on that groups two album releases “Lucid Dreamers” (2020) and “Blink” (2022). The band line up is completed by saxophonist George Crowley and drummer Tim Giles, both of whom also contribute electronics.
She has also recently worked with jazz French horn player Jim Rattigan.
Tori Freestone has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages both as a band leader and as a prolific sidewoman. She leads her own chordless trio featuring Dave Manington on double bass and Tim Giles at the drums, with whom she has recorded the albums “In The Chop House” (2014), “El Barranco” (2016) and “El Mar de Nubes” (2019), all of which have been reviewed elsewhere on this site.
Freestone has also recorded with trumpeter Rory Simmons’ Fringe Magnetic, pianist Ivo Neame’s quintet and octet, saxophonist Pete Hurt’s Jazz Orchestra, bassist Riaan Vosloo’s Examples of Twelves, pianist Rick Simpson’s quintet and with the co-operative sextet Solstice. She co-led the quartet Compassionate Dictatorship with guitarist Jez Franks and has also been part of trumpeter Andre Canniere’s Darkening Blue ensemble.
Her versatility as a saxophonist and flautist has also led to regular large ensemble work with notable engagements including the London Jazz Orchestra, the Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra, the E17 Jazz Ensemble, Neil Yates’ N Circle Orchestra, Orquestra Timbala and Hermeto Pascoal’s All Star UK Big Band. In 2023 she appeared at Brecon Jazz Festival as a member of pianist Zoe Rahman’s octet.
“Make One Little Room An Everywhere” takes its title from a line in a poem written in 1633 by John Donne. The seven original compositions, four by Freestone and three by Mick, were written during the 2020-21 Covid lockdowns, thus making the Donne derived title particularly apposite. The programme also includes Freestone’s arrangements of the Gershwin tune “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and the Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now”. Beraha contributes vocals to four pieces and Atlas to one. Like its predecessor the album was recorded at the Artesuono Studio in Udine, Italy by engineer Stefano Amerio, the recording session taking place in October 2021. The album was recorded with the financial support of the Help Musicians DID (Do it Differently) Award.
The music on “Make One Little Room An Everywhere” is very much the product of lockdown. Freestone spent the first lockdown period on the island of Tenerife, where she has family connections, while Mick was in the less glamorous environs of Wood Green, North London. Both were writing music during this time and their lockdown surroundings and experiences inform some of these compositions.
Lockdown might have been a time of isolation, but thanks to modern technology it was also a time of inter-connectedness. Freestone took online lessons with New York based saxophonist Ellery Eskelin during this period and this experience informs the new album. There’s a greater degree of free playing than there was on the debut and a greater willingness to experiment. The album has a harder edge than its predecessor and edges slightly closer to the avant garde.
The writing process for the album saw Freestone and Mick exchanging ideas online before eventually going into the studio. It was a very different method of working in comparison to the “Criss Cross” album but ultimately gave the musicians greater control over the finished product. The results are very impressive and the quality of the new recording speaks for itself.
The album commences with Freestone’s title track, introduced by a passage of unaccompanied tenor saxophone that explores the full range of the instrument’s tonal possibilities and exhibits something of Eskelin’s influence. It’s a passage that is perhaps meant to symbolise the isolation of lockdown but the addition of Mick’s piano sees Freestone adopting a warmer tone, the lyricism of the duo’s music now implying some form of acceptance, a willingness to take things as they are and make the most of them, a process that many of us went through during the lockdown period. Both musicians play with great fluency and the high level of empathy and rapport that distinguished “Criss Cross” remains very much in place.
Mick takes up the compositional reins for “Detachment”, another lockdown inspired title, one suspects. Spikier in tone this piece draws inspiration from the Middle Eastern music that the composer has been exposed to as a member of Natacha Atlas’ band. There’s more than a hint of those free jazz influences too. As on the opener there’s an impressive passage of unaccompanied piano from Mick, this followed by a passage where Freestone’s tenor takes the lead, probing deeply with the support of Mick’s increasingly percussive piano. But it’s the dazzling interplay between the two instrumentalists that really catches the ear.
Freestone’s “Birds of Paradise” takes its title from the avian sights and sounds of Tenerife but also references both a plant and a yoga position! It features the composer on flute and also introduces Beraha on wordless vocals. Flute and voice intertwine, swooping and soaring, safely underpinned by Mick’s piano accompaniment. Beraha’s voice is an extraordinarily flexible instrument as she demonstrates here, exchanging solos with Freestone, before flute and vocals finally coalesce once more. Freestone’s flute solo demonstrates her brilliance on that instrument, and she’s also heard on triangle on a piece inspired by the great Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Hermeto Pascoal, a musician with whom Freestone has played and who cites as a profound influence. “Birds of Paradise” saw Freestone win the 2022 Ivor Novello Award for Best Composition for Jazz Ensemble, a magnificent achievement, well done Tori.
Also inspired by bird life Mick’s ‘companion piece’ “The Crows” is named for a flock of corvids in Wood Green, angry birds that seemed to “rule the neighbourhood”. A relatively gentle and lyrical introduction featuring the sounds of piano and tenor sax eventually leads into something edgier and more fragmented, the jagged instrumental interplay reminiscent of the sounds of a flock of squabbling crows. Calm is eventually restored with the return of the opening theme, although there are further hints of avian disagreement before the close.
Incidentally Freestone’s album artwork also depicts birds, plus the changing landscape as viewed through the bay windows of her Tenerife retreat.
Freestone’s arrangement of the Gershwin brothers’ “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” is an intriguing one, with sax and piano almost seeming to be competing with one another at times and with Mick threatening to branch off into “Tea For Two”.
The title track of Freestone’s 2019 trio album “El Mar de Nubes” (the title meaning “The Sea of Clouds”) is reprised in a very different form with Beraha singing the words that the composer wrote to complement the music. The very personal lyrics reference the ‘super moon’ that was visible in Tenerife in early 2018 and also allude to the Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now”, a tune that the Freestone trio covered on an earlier album, “In The Chop House”.
The new version of “El Mar de Nubes” has become a song with Beraha’s assured singing of Freestone’s words complemented by the fluent sounds of the composer’s tenor and Mick’s sensitive piano accompaniment.
Mick’s final contribution with the pen is “In the Fridge”, ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied piano, subsequently joined by Freestone’s tenor sax. It’s a more relaxed offering than her two previous compositions, with a pastoral, gently whimsical charm that fits in neatly with the almost jokey title. There’s a further extended solo piano passage that features some of Mick’s best playing of the set.
Freestone’s “Who We Are Now” features Beraha and Atlas working in tandem, the latter brining an authentically Middle Eastern feel to the music with her extraordinary vocal ululations. Freestone and Mick respond intuitively, with the saxophonist also finding plenty of space in which to express herself. The the whole piece is blessed with a strange, dramatic, ethereal beauty.
The album concludes with Freestone’s arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” as she continues her fascination with a song that was explored in an all instrumental saxophone trio format on “In The Chop House”.
As with El Mar De Nubes” it’s substantially different to its earlier counterpart with Mick’s lyrical piano bringing a fresh dimension to the music and Beraha singing Mitchell’s lyrics with great feeling and conviction, while stretching and contracting the phrases in the manner of a true jazz singer. Freestone solos eloquently on tenor, expertly supported by Mick, as ever.
Despite being written in challenging circumstances “Make One Little Room An Everywhere” represents an excellent follow up to the acclaimed “Criss Cross” and the new album has received similar plaudits, and justifiably so. The adversity of the lockdown period has actually encouraged experimentation and the new album sees Freestone and Mick adopting a more experimental approach, while retaining the essential intimacy of the duo format.
The five instrumental duo performances are all excellent but both Beraha and Atlas bring something fresh and exciting to the pieces on which they appear and their singing enhances and adds variety to the album as a whole. That said the ultimate glory rests with Mick and Freestone, whose shared musical vision is at the heart of their second excellent album.
The duo will be touring in the UK and Europe during the remainder of 2023 and into 2024, with some performances featuring guest appearances from Beraha and Atlas. Please visit the individual websites of the musicians for details.
“Make One Little Room an Everywhere” is available via Bandcamp here;
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