Tori Freestone Trio El Barranco (Whirlwind WR 4689)
STRANGE that a jazz record should feature two such contrasting sound-worlds as the mountainscapes of Tenerife and the grim, riverine streets of 18th-century London.
But south London tenor saxophonist Tori Freestone managed this juxtaposition with entirely natural aplomb and powerful musicianship on her new album El Barranco.
Her emotional and aesthetic attachment to the volcanic rocks of Tenerife is clear — expressed visually through the girlhood pastel drawings on her album’s sleeve, but her trio, with Dave Manington’s lithe, plunging basslines and Tim Giles’s light, skittering drums encourage Freestone’s horn to sound-dance blithely over their gambolling notes.
This is a trio which intimately knows itself, continuing the same sense of oneness they showed on their first album, In the Chop House of 2014, and the Tenerife mountains of El Barranco de Masca blow through the Freestone saxophone like stone turned to sound.
Her reading of The Press Gang, which I remember some 50 years ago being sung by Ewan McColl, has a deep and angry sadness pressing through her reed.
Her own east London antecedents — her forebears included Thames watermen — add a moving poignancy to her rendition, which she plays like an ancestral Thameside blues where silent narrative words are transcribed in her every note: “The first thing they done, they took me in hand / They lashed me with a tarry strand / They flogged me till I could not stand / On board of a man ’o war, boys.”
This story of human beings kidnapped, enslaved and stolen into a life of brutal naval serfdom peals out in her phrases particularly those after Manington’s blood-throbbing solo.
It’s not the Mississippi, it’s the Thames, not New Orleans but Shadwell and Wapping, but still peals with the blues for all that. Next up is the simple, riffing theme of Identity Protection, which leaps out the bell of Tori’s horn with an irrepressible urgency as she climbs and scales the top of its register to state her case. Giles’s drums rumble as if they where the living proof of all three of these troubadours.
Then it is straight into the Arthur Altman ballad All or Nothing at All as if the American songbook were hers and its tunes were an inescapable part of her musical life, so powerful does she blow through its sentiments.
Challenger Deep follows and it shows Freestone’s surging notes balanced on Giles’s mallets as he strikes his toms, and Manington’s burrowing bass.
It contrasts with the aerial potency of the next track, Quetzalcoatlus, a sound-picture of the huge prehistoric flying creature — by legend the largest animal that ever flew.
It is Manington’s bass that tethers its massiveness to the earth and Tori’s winged notes that free its will to soar towards the stars. Manington’s pulsating solo begins A Charmed Life before Tori enters, sounding out reflection, assertion and events that only she knows above Giles’s scuttling snares.
Cross Wired is altogether lighter, more fluid and rhapsodic with the saxophone notes almost weightless as they flutter perch to perch like flying songbirds, never settling.
Then it is a reprise of The Press Gang as if it were a haunting narrative for Tori, who now sings the ballad as a lingering folk protest, this time accompanied by her aching violin and Manington’s bass.
I hadn’t heard its naked and piecing words for decades, and listening to them again, they brought back the lies which they used to make us sing, standing up in school assemblies, every morning.
Do you remember that one which told us: “Hearts of oak are our ships / Jolly tars are our men / We always are ready, steady boys, steady / We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again.”
The Press Gang gives us the real story, and I thank Tori’s trio for reminding us of it, with a singular jazz truth and beauty.
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