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Tori Freestone Trio

El Mar de Nubes


by Ian Mann

June 18, 2019


A particularly well balanced trio who have established an easy but robust rapport, highly interactive and willing to take musical risks. There’s a delicate, tensile strength about this music.

Tori Freestone Trio

“El Mar de Nubes”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4739)

Tori Freestone – tenor saxophone, violin, vocals
Dave Manington – double bass
Tim Giles - drums

On the evening of Saturday, June 15th 2019 I had hoped to see saxophonist Tori Freestone and her trio perform at a Clun Valley Jazz event at the Town Hall in the Shropshire town of Bishop’s Castle. However an unexpected family crisis, of which I’ll spare you the details, entailed that I was more urgently needed elsewhere.

All is now well, but nevertheless I was still disappointed to miss out on seeing Freestone leading her own trio, having previously witnessed her playing as a sidewoman with others. I had planned to combine a review of the gig with a look at Freestone’s new album “El Mar de Nubes”, her third with her long standing trio featuring bassist Dave Manington and drummer Tim Giles.

Although I can no longer cross-reference the live performance the time still feels right to cover the new album, which follows 2014’s “In The Chop House” and 2016’s “El Barranco”, both of which also appeared on the Whirlwind label and both of which are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Born in London Freestone studied flute at Leeds College of Music before returning to the capital,  establishing herself as a versatile flautist and saxophonist 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, the Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra, Issie Barratt’s all female ensemble Interchange and the Cuban group Orquestra Timbala. Freestone featured playing soprano sax and flute on “A New Start”, the well received album by the Pete Hurt Jazz Orchestra. She is also part of a stellar new sextet led by American born, London based, trumpeter and composer Andre Canniere.

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.  These two recently released the excellent “Criss-Cross” (Whirlwind Recordings), which featured guest vocals from Beraha. Review here

“El Mar de Nubes” continues Freestone’s love affair with Spain, something that began with “El Barranco”. Freestone has family in Tenerife and visits the Canary Islands frequently. “El Mar de Nubes” is named after the Canaries’ “sea of clouds” that, given the right climatic conditions, surround the volcanic peak El Teide on Tenerife, the highest point in Spain. The album cover depicts Freestone standing above “El Mar de Nubes”  with Paulino Padilla Sanchez’s photograph echoing Casper David Friedrich’s famous painting “Wanderer above a Sea of Fog”.

Freestone says of the inspirations behind the album;
“At the close of 2017 I blocked out time to stay in Tenerife, to be alone in the mountains where my thoughts flow freely. I was there during the New Year when the supermoon was visible. To arrive in the alien landscape of El Teide on New Year’s Day after viewing the sea of clouds en route was incredible, followed by the moon appearing to be brighter than the sun as the evening drew in, due to the supermoon being at its strongest on that particular day.”

This unforgettable experience inspired Freestone to write the poem that adorns the album cover (complete with allusions to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, a tune that Freestone covered on “In The Chop House”) and she also jotted down phrases that informed the writing of the music for “El Mar des Nubes”, which was eventually recorded at Porcupine Studios in London in 2019.

“El Mar de Nubes” continues the softly sinewy saxophone trio explorations of “In The Chop house” and “El Barranco” while again harking back to Freestone’s folk music roots. The new album commences with the title track, which initially evokes the ‘sea of clouds’ that inspired it with Freestone’s wispy tenor sax melodies subtly underscored by double bass and brushed drums. As the piece progresses the trio probe more deeply and passionately, the momentum of the music increasing as the collective improvising becomes gradually more intense. Freestone draws inspiration from such saxophonic colossi as Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter and the influence of all these can be heard in her work. But it isn’t all about the tenor, the opener also gives Manington the opportunity to stretch out on double bass while Giles is also featured extensively at the kit. The drummer’s playing is brilliantly nuanced throughout, colourful and constantly unfolding as Giles responds to the ebbing and swirling of this cloud inspired music, before finally seizing his chance with both hands (and feet) towards the close.

“Hiding Jekyll” presents another example of the finely balanced rapport between Freestone, Manington and Giles that the trio have honed over the course of regular gigging and two previous albums. The piece commences with a burst of unaccompanied tenor sax, to which Manington responds, with Giles joining the party shortly afterwards. There’s a vaguely North African feel to this piece, an allusion perhaps to Tenerife’s geographic location. Overall the piece is more strident and outgoing than the title track with a strong riff based theme that forms the jumping off point for some knotty, improvisatory trio interplay with the leader’s tenor becoming increasingly garrulous as the piece progresses.

Freestone’s family have a background in folk music and those formative influences inform her jazz output. Both of Freestone’s previous albums have referenced the folk tradition and this is represented here by her choice of the traditional American folk tune “Shenandoah”, which appears in two different incarnations. The first is as an atmospheric jazz instrumental with Freestone’s piping, gently exploratory tenor underpinned by Manington’s arco bass drone and Giles’ delicately nuanced and richly detailed drums and percussion. Manington then puts down the bow for a richly melodic pizzicato bass solo supported by Giles’ mallet rumbles and Freestone’s breathy tenor. The saxophonist then solos at greater length, exploring far beyond the boundaries of the original folk melody. Jazz audiences may also be familiar with guitarist Bill Frisell’s version of the song.

Manington takes over the compositional reins for the next two pieces. The title of “Hasta La Vista” remains true to the album’s Spanish theme, as does the following “El Camino”.
“Hasta La Vista” commences with the unaccompanied sound of Giles’ drums before evolving into a tight, riffy piece centred around Freestone’s hooky sax motif, this proving to be the launch point for some typically interactive trio interplay as Freestone again probes widely during the course of her solo, this followed by a virtuoso outing from the composer on double bass and a further feature for Giles at the drums.

Meanwhile “El Camino” is an abstract ballad that features the composer’s bass prominently in the arrangement, while also allowing Freestone to stretch out on tenor, following the ‘road’ of the title as Giles’ drums circle around her.

Saxophonist Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice” has become a modern day standard and Freestone’s arrangement of the piece takes inspiration from Joe Henderson’s version on his “State of the Tenor” album. Freestone and her colleagues take a leisurely approach to the tune, exploring it in democratic and highly interactive fashion over the course of eight minutes, with features for all three musicians incorporated into another absorbing trio performance.

Freestone takes over compositional duties again with “Los Indianos”, named for the annual carnival held on the Canary Island of La Palma. Her tune also takes inspiration from her years spent touring as a violinist with various Cuban bands and she describes the piece as having a “vibey, messed-up calypso groove”. It’s an appropriately vibrant and colourful piece that is introduced by Giles, deploying a variety of drums and percussion. His exuberant playing is enhanced by Manington’s muscular and propulsive bass lines and the leader’s nimbly darting tenor sax as the trio negotiate their way through a series of playful rhythmic and stylistic changes. There’s a real Latin-esque vitality about the playing here, and particularly on Giles’s extended drum and percussion feature.

The New Year experiences that inspired the title track also inform “La Nochevieja”, a more contemplative piece notable for its ‘metric modulations’. Initially ruminative the trio’s playing gradually becomes more assertive and animated as the piece continues its unhurried progress, with Manington’s solo combining muscularity with a strong sense of melody.

The album concludes with a return visit to “Shenandoah” the “Reprise” of the piece featuring Freestone on voice and violin. Freestone isn’t in Beraha’s class as a vocalist but there’s a rustic, disarming charm about her singing and violin playing here.  Manington and Giles offer discrete support, coming into their own as they accompany Freestone’s folk fiddling during an extended instrumental section. “El Barranco” included ‘jazz’ and ‘folk’ versions of the traditional tune “The Press Gang”, and Freestone mirrors that approach here.

“El Mar de Nubes” is a highly personal album but one that is capable of appealing to broad section of jazz listeners. It expands upon the successes of its two predecessors and is further proof that this trio have established their own signature sound. Freestone, Maningron and Giles are a particularly well balanced trio who have established an easy but robust rapport, highly interactive and willing to take musical risks. There’s a delicate, tensile strength about this music that repays the listener’s attention. Freestone’s music doesn’t shout to be heard but it is fiercely intelligent and quietly authoritative, striking a good balance between composition and improvisation. I just which I’d been able to see it performed live.

The official album launch takes place tonight, 18th June 2019 at The Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston, London. Don’t miss out like me, catch it if you can.

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