Tell us about your duo project with Alcyona Mick.
“We started it about 3 years ago out in the Canary Islands. I was on one of my writing holidays, because my mum lives in Tenerife so I go out there quite regularly to do some writing, to take a break from all the admin and all the things that get in the way over here, and focus completely on writing. Alcyona came over to join me, the weather wasn’t great so we ended up in my mum’s flat playing lots of Monk tunes. Alcyona really loves him. We were having lots of fun playing Monk tunes and said wouldn’t this work really well as a duo. We’d worked together a lot in other ensembles, especially the London Jazz Orchestra, we’re both members. I’ve got the tenor 1 chair and she’s obviously got the piano chair. We were like ‘this is crazy, why haven’t we been playing together more in smaller ensembles’. Often we say these things, we get busy and we never get round to it. Then Steve Mead from the Manchester Jazz Festival called me about something else that I was involved in with vocalist Brigitte Beraha and he asked if I could do a paired-down version of that, for one of their church gigs. It would have been piano, Brigitte and myself. Brigitte wasn’t available and I said it would be lovely to do a duo with a piano player. I was racking my brains for some reason and then suddenly it was like ‘oh, yes, of course, I play with Alcyona quite a lot’. We’d been talking about doing a project. And Steve said ‘Yes, the two of you together, I can just picture that, that sounds amazing. I’d love to have you in one of the church gigs at the festival’. So we did St. Anne’s Church that year at Manchester Jazz Festival. That was our first gig. It was just amazing, and so beautiful in that space as well. The gig was so great, we said to each other ‘we have to get this going and start this as a project’. So we started writing for it and getting gigs all over the place. We played in Lanzarote, in a wine bodega where they do concerts every month. We’ve got some gigs coming up in Germany as well as this tour. So we’ve been writing for it and doing lots of gigs in the UK and a few festivals, which has been lovely. Now the album’s out and we’re so excited because it’s all come to fruition. It’s just brilliant, we love working together. It’s great fun. We’re very like-minded and into a lot of the same music so it just feels like a natural thing.”
How do you go about composing your music? Do you compose on the saxophone?
“It’s different for different projects. For my trio I write mostly on the sax as I’m coming from a more linear concept with it being a non-chordal group. Obviously the harmony is there but usually when I have something in my head for the trio I’m doing it quite linear, so I tend to write using the sax.
But also I’ve got a little four-track recorder that I use just for composing, which I have set up, connected to my keyboard. I bring that over to Tenerife when I do my writing over there. It’s a really small device that fits in my hand luggage. It’s really great for that linear thing because I can play into it and then add another idea using the keyboard. So all the lines that are going around in my head I can get down into that machine, which is quite handy. I don’t tend to go to Sibelius until right at the end and that’s really just for getting music down on sheet music. But really everything’s in my head away from that. I don’t like that thing of going straight to Sibelius because I think it changes your composing.”
“With the duo it’s interesting, I do write more at the piano. Because I’m writing for a pianist, I’m hearing more chordal and harmonic ideas. Some of the tunes that I originally wrote for the trio, some of them are still quite harmonic, so it’s been really nice to try those in a duo context. There are a few that are on my previous albums that I’ve actually done on this album too but in a completely different way. So I’ll play over the changes which I wouldn’t do in the trio, I’d do an open section where I’d improvise but it doesn’t work so much because there’s not enough of a chordal instrument but with Alcyona being there it’s really lovely to explore those tunes in a different way. Even just how an arrangement of how a tune that we’ve done can have a completely different tune come out, because of the different instruments.”
Who has inspired you most in terms of your playing?
“That’s such a hard question because I listen to so many different players and love all of them. I definitely have favourites. One week it’s Joe Lovano and the next week it’s someone else because it’s who I’m listening to at that stage. There are so many ridiculous players out there and so much to take in from them but I suppose when I was young my first big influence was Wayne Shorter. He was my first favourite sax player. And then I went through all sorts of phases but still absolutely love Wayne. For me, it’s not just saxophone players it’s all instruments. Hermeto Pascoal is a really big influence of mine and I dedicated a track on the album to him. There are lots of musicians that are an incredible influence on me, Joni Mitchell is another one. In terms of saxophone players I suppose I started with Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson and that kind of era. I love a bit of both scenes in a way, the American sound and the British sound, the saxophonists that we have over here. Julian Arguelles is a big influence and Iain Ballamy and all those guys. Stan Sulzmann, all the British guys. Then all the New York guys like Seamus Blake and contemporary players but also Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, George Coleman, Joe Henderson, Joe Lovano, just a complete mix really. Tony Malaby, and some of the more modern players like Ellery Eskelin.”
“There are just tons of influences. I can’t say that I’ve got just one. If there’s one that I find that is really inspiring then it’s Julian Arguelles because he’s amazing, he’s from the UK and he’s on that international level. Every time I hear him, he’s moved on to another level. I find him very inspiring, and his writing as well, his approach. He’s a big influence. But there are lots because there’s so much amazing music out there.”
What projects are you working on for the future?
“I want to do another trio album so I’m writing for that at the moment. I went out to Tenerife at the beginning of this year in December & January and tried to get an album’s worth of material together. I’ve got some gigs for the duo but also with the trio. We’re hoping to do some gigs out there in the autumn. And we played at a jazz festival in Austria last year so we’re still pretty busy. I’d like to keep that going and I’ve had a few double bills with both the duo and trio. So I’ll be doing lots of work with the trio. And there’s a band I do called Solstice which is a six piece with Brigitte Beraha and that’s a co-led project. We recorded an album recently and we’re in the processing of mixing and mastering that. The album will hopefully be out some time later this year. That’s exciting.”
“And with me and Alcyona playing in the London Jazz Orchestra, I really hope to do some writing for large ensemble, after all this duo work. It would be nice to do some large ensemble writing. I definitely want to do some big band writing for that because everyone writes for that project. It’s been an amazing kind of workshop for a lot of great writers. Kenny Wheeler wrote for the band, Stan Sulzmann, Pete Saberton, Pete Hurt, Noel Langley. It’s a great place to try out your charts. Alcyona writes for it too. That’s one of my main aims this year, to get a few big band charts written for that ensemble. It’s a real honour to be part of that, given the history of it and who’s gone through it, so I want to make the most of that.”
“I’ve also written for a dectet project which is Issie Barratt’s project. I was commissioned to write something for that. It was nice to write for dectet, with very unusual instrumentation as well.”
“So, a lot more writing and experimenting with different ensembles, sounds and textures.”
Tori Freestone & Alcyona Mick perform at The Verdict, Brighton on Sunday 4th March, 2018.
The album Criss Cross is released on 23rd March, 2018 on Whirlwind Recordings.
For more information on Tori Freestone: www.torifreestone.com
Interview conducted by Charlie Anderson.
Photo of Tori Freestone by Rob Blackham.