Those who know the Jazz Society’s concerts at The Mad Hatter will know they’re always a good experience, but the 22nd of January was a particular treat. The evening’s guests were the Tori Freestone Trio, an internationally acclaimed group consisting of three of the UK’s finest jazz musicians.
I caught wind there was some worry that the band wouldn’t make it on time due to several millimetres of snow coverage having wreaked havoc on the roads, but fortunately I arrived to see the trio already set up and enjoying a quick pre-gig curry. I nabbed a seat right at the front so as to be just centimetres away from the action.
The first set kicked off with a characteristically powerful introduction from double bassist Dave Manington, shortly leading into the familiar tune of the title track of the trio’s second album, El Barranco. The piece has a soft and catchy melody, but still showcases the tightly arranged counterpoint between bass and sax that has long been a signature of Tori’s writing. Soon Manington was back in the spotlight, providing the first solo. This rather set the tone for the evening: the bass takes a lot of the weight in this music. Fortunately Manington has no trouble carrying this weight, his nimble and well-structured solo on this tune being the first of many that night.
Tori comes next, taking things up a notch. Her language is flowing and intricate, and the extraordinary energy of her playing prompts an enormous dynamic build across the band, turning the gentle waltz into an intense jam. This leads into an appropriately blasting drum solo from Tim Giles, before the trio eventually cool things off for the final recap of the melody.
… the most impressive element of his playing comes out during the sax solo when he
demonstrates his mastery of counterpoint…
I was amazed, but after such a huge opening it was difficult to see where the band would go from here. Fortunately they had another trick up their collective sleeve: bar one tune, the rest of the gig was brand new material, heard before by only a few dozen others.
Tori tells us that Los Indianos is a piece inspired by the Canary Islands festival of the same name and
the Cuban music that is played there. The tune kicks off with the bright clang of Giles’s cowbell, soon
joined by bass in a loose, slightly abstract groove. There was certainly a sense that this music was far
from familiar to the band, but the colourful and joyful message of the piece was none-the-less conveyed. Things took a more serious turn on ‘El Mar Des Nubles’, a Tenerife-inspired piece about seeing the world from different perspectives: this was dark and expressive music. Manington’s solo, often interjected by tight unison passages with sax, was a long and compelling piece of story-telling.
However, the most impressive element of his playing comes out during the sax solo when he demonstrates his mastery of counterpoint, underpinning Tori’s lines with intricate melodies and
syncopations. The next chart, an atmospheric and reflective sea shanty called Shenandoah, leads us
into the interval, during which I grab a quick chat with Tori. She tells me that the band is due to
record their third album in February and that this is the final gig before the recording, having tested
out the new material at only a couple of prior gigs.
The second set opened with another of Tori’s new tunes, La Noche Vieja. I thought this one was
rather simple until I was suddenly slapped in the face by a very unexpected metric change. And then
a few more. At times the piece landed into a deep, almost funky groove. This was complex,
unpredictable music and certainly new territory for this trio. Two Manington tunes followed, one still
unnamed (and both still a tad under-rehearsed), in which Giles was the real star. He showed off his
lightning-fast hands in two explosive solos in Hasta La Vista, but also displayed his exceptional ability
at accompaniment–often complex but always sensitive, a product of his superb listening skills. All I
caught of Tori’s announcement about the final tune was that it was inspired by a favourite sax player
of hers. As soon as the tune started it became clear who she was referring to: international giant
Chris Potter. This was, of course, Pottering Around from the trio’s debut In The Chop House. The
band has really got Potter’s sound under their fingers and their energy was huge, but I was worried
there would be too much mimicry and too little originality. Fortunately, Tori took her solo to unique
and characteristic places that marked the performance as much more than imitation.
Overall, the concert felt like the perfect prelude to the band’s upcoming album. Consistent with
Freestone’s previous work, most of the new compositions had long, complex forms with strong over-
arching narratives and consisted of a flowing fusion of the written and the improvised. But this new
material felt like a significant progression for the band, introducing a wider range of colours and
grooves and, at times, an entirely different level of metric complexity. The trio’s third album will
certainly be one to watch out for.