by Ian Mann
October 22, 2014
Freestone offers a fresh, intelligent insight into the art of the saxophone trio.
Tori Freestone Trio
“In the Chop House”
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4648)
Released in April 2014 this is an album that has been sitting in the “to do” file for far too long. However with Freestone and the trio set to make two appearances at the forthcoming EFG London Jazz Festival now seems like a good time to take a look at it.
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. Currently she is a member of the sextet Solstice , featuring Franks and vocalist Brigitte Beraha.
The versatile Freestone (a visit to her website reveals that she also plays violin) concentrates on tenor sax on this, her recording début as a leader. It represented a brave move to put herself in such an exposed musical position at this stage of her career but the overwhelmingly positive critical reactions to “In The Chop House” have more than justified the risk. Freestone offers a fresh, intelligent insight into the art of the saxophone trio, her approach far removed from the macho blustering of the Sonny Rollins Trio, the group with which all saxophone trios are inevitably compared. It’s different too, to the music of label mates Partikel, the trio fronted by saxophonist Duncan Eagles.
The decision to record in the trio format is perhaps a reaction to all the work Freestone has done in large ensembles. She clearly relishes both the freedom and the challenge offered by the pared down format and in bassist Dave Manington and drummer Tim Giles, both long term musical associates, she has partners whom she feels she can trust implicitly.
Born in London Freestone studied flute at Leeds College of Music before returning to the capital. But “In The Chop House” takes its name from a pub in Manchester, the place where members of trumpeter Neil Yates’ large ensemble, the N-Circle Orchestra, used to hang out during the Manchester Jazz Festival. Indeed Yates has been a significant influence on Freestone, the folk elements he brings to his music prompting the saxophonist to re-examine her own folk roots including the traditional music, both British and Irish, of her childhood and a later fascination with the works of Joni Mitchell, also a musician with a foot in both the jazz and folk camps. These inspirations are reflected in the choice of material on “In The Chop House” which includes an arrangement of the traditional Irish folk tune “My Lagan Love” and an instrumental interpretation of Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”.
The album begins with “Bubble and Squeak”, a tune by her Compassionate Dictatorship band mate Jez Franks. It’s a good introduction to the trio as Freestone’s melodic sax lines combine effectively with the subtle bustle of Giles’s drums and the grounding presence of Manington’s bass. It’s a genuine three way conversation with Freestone probing lightly but intelligently and drawing similarly sure-footed responses from her colleagues. Giles is consistently inventive, always choosing the right pulse or accent and coaxing a rich variety of sounds and textures from his kit.
When Manington steps out of the shadows his warmly resonant tone and melodic dexterity are a delight. Franks’ tune move through several phases and helps to bring out the best of this highly interactive trio.
Freestone’s own “The Universal 4” (it’s actually in seven) explores similar territory and exhibits similar virtues, her tenor lightly tiptoeing around the flexible rhythmic lattices established by her colleagues. Again it’s a piece that moves through several episodes, some moments are bright and breezy, others more brooding and lyrical as Freestone delves deeper into the structure of the piece. On occasion the group is reduced to a duo, Freestone/Manington or Manington/Giles, with the bassist taking a marvellous solo, unobtrusively shadowed by Giles’ drums. Giles then features more prominently in the tune’s closing stages, exchanging ideas with Freestone as Manington reverts to more of an anchoring role.
Manington’s “Lonesome George” introduces a more extrovert side of the trio, an urgent bustling piece closer in style and spirit to Rollins and Partikel and with a probing, more loosely structured central section that sees Freestone digging deeply and relentlessly. The final section showcases the richly colourful flow of Giles’ drumming punctuated by Freestone’s staccato sax phrases.
The trio’s take on Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” is remarkable, capturing the yearning, wistful qualities of Mitchell’s lyrics but in a freely structured way with Giles’ delicate mallet work highly effective. Manington uses Mitchell’s melody as the starting point for an emotive but inventive solo that sees Giles shadowing him with brushes. When Freestone returns on tenor it’s almost as if the piece has been transformed into a fresh composition before the familiar theme eventually returns.
The trio get a lot out of this tune, retaining something of the original spirit but never descending into sentimentality. Their rich inventions breathe new life into a song that has become rather too familiar over the years.
The trio then do much the same with their treatment of the album’s only jazz standard, George Gershwin’s “But Not For Me”, stretching the fabric of the tune so that it becomes loose and elastic.
Manington’s bass plays a pivotal role as Freestone’s teasing melodic fragments act as reminders of the song’s original identity. It’s another intriguing interpretation guaranteed to keep the listener on their toes.
I assume that “Mrs PC” (great title) is Freestone’s homage to John Coltrane, although her sound is very different. It’s one of the album’s most playful pieces with Manington’s bass providing an underlying funkiness never mind how wide and deep Freestone ranges.
“My Lagan Love”, arranged by Freestone, segues into the saxophonist’s own “In the Chop House”.
The intro has Freestone’s tenor approximating the sound of uillean pipes above the rustle and shimmer of Giles’ shakers and Manington’s underpinning bass. The Celtic mistiness is then gradually transformed into something more obviously jazz as Freestone uses the melody as a basis for improvisation, yet still retaining the essential essence of the piece. A passage of solo bass marks the transition to “In the Chop House” which sees Freestone’s tenor dancing lightly above slow but flexible bass and drum grooves (almost a hint of hip hop from Giles) to produce an appropriately relaxed, after hours sound.
The closing “Pottering Around” represents Freestone’s homage to US saxophone great Chris Potter.
Like “Mrs PC” it’s a playful piece with a subtly funky rhythmic undertow. Freestone’s playing sounds positively joyous and there’s an extended feature for the excellent Giles who clearly relishes the opportunity to cut loose.
“In the Chop House” is one of those albums that slowly creeps up on you and reveals its secrets. Despite the homages Freestone’s sound is closer to that of Wayne Shorter (another acknowledged influence), Mark Turner or even Stan Getz than to that of Potter or Coltrane. This is a record full of subtle delights and the interplay between Freestone, Manington and Giles is a constant joy, this is a very well balanced trio that sometimes reminded me of Julian Siegel’s collaborations with the Americans Greg Cohen (bass) and Joey Baron (drums). Certainly Giles has something of Baron’s versatility and flexibility, his drumming is delightfully nuanced throughout. Manington is also superb, whether in a supporting role or as a highly convincing soloist. Despite the influences mentioned above Freestone has developed a sound that is very much her own and she plays with poise and sophistication throughout. Her selfless production skills also ensure that all the colour and nuance of the music is brought out with each instrument possessing the appropriate level of prominence.
“In the Chop House” sees Freestone taking on the challenge of the saxophone trio and succeeding. Occasionally I missed the sound of a chordal instrument but such moments were very rare. The album title is also doubtless a playful reference to the “chops” of the musicians, something they clearly have in abundance, but the music is about so much more than that. This is the sound of a trio taking risks and having fun but underlying it all is a thoughtfulness and an innate and undemonstrative musicality built entirely upon mutual trust.
The Tori Freestone Trio will be playing twice at the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival;
Henri Texier - The Hope Quartet + Tori Freestone Trio
Sunday 16 November 2014 | 7:45PM
LONDON Southbank Centre / Purcell Room
InSoundOut: Tori Freestone Trio + Metamorphic
Tuesday 18 November 2014 | 8:30PM
Servant Jazz Quarters
10a Bradbury Street
Rapidly emerging British saxophonist Tori balances wit with playfulness, blurring the lines between written and improvised music. Contemporary song-based jazz/folk sextet Metamorphic open the evening.
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Further information at http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.co.uk