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Full Focus

Tori Freestone

My Lagan Love - In The Chophouse


The idea behind our Full Focus series is to let the reader listen to a track from an album at the same time as reading the concepts behind the track as seen by the composer and the musicians involved.

Saxophonist Tori Freestone released her debut album In The Chophouse on Whirlwind Records in 2014. It is a well-considered piece Tori Freestoneof work with several compositions by Tori as well as two 'standards' - Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now and Gershwin's But Not For Me. When I say well-considered, I mean that the album has variety, imagination and showcases Tori's talents as a musician and arranger. Take But Not For Me. Introduced by Dave Manington's bass and Tim Giles's rolling drums, Tori takes it very slowly, in short phrases, before improvising lyrically around the melody before handingover to Dave for a bass solo while Tori's sax adds comments beside him until an understated drum solo leads to the conclusion. An unusual but enjoyable arrangement. Tori's composition the expressive and joyful Mrs PC follows and is also worth a listen if you want to explore the album.

But my favourite track is a combination of two tunes, the traditional My Lagan Love which leads into Tori's In The Chophouse. This is the track that Tori tells us about here:

My Lagan Love is a traditional Irish air from north Donegal collected in the early twentieth century by Joseph Campbell from Belfast who collected traditional songs with composer Herbert Hughes. Apparently, while on holiday in Donegal, Hughes had learned the air from Proinseas mac Suibhne, who had learned it from his Tori Freestone Trio In The Chophousefather Seaghan mac Suibhne, who in turn had learned it fifty years previously. It seems that the Lagan referred to in the title probably refers to an area of fertile farming land between Donegal and Derry known in Irish as An Lagán. The Lagan is also the river that runs through Belfast. However, some argue that the Lagan in the song refers to a stream that empties into Lough Swillyin County Donegal, not far from where Herbert Hughes collected the song.

I felt the tune was a perfect intro to lead into the title track of the album In The Chophouse, which I'd actually started composing many years ago when I was at college but had never  quite got around to finishing it.  Most of the writing for this current album took place after my involvement in the Manchester Jazz Festival's 2010 'Surroundings' project' which was a large ensemble project led by trumpeter/composer Neil Yates.  Having the opportunity to renew old collaborations with so many great musicians on this project plus Neil's beautiful folk infused writing, inspired me to set up the trio and particularly to go back to my folk roots and infuse my own compositions with this flavour. 

I wrote In The Chop House when I got back from the festival as the experience of working with Neil and playing his beautiful compositions gave me the confidence to revisit some of my unfinished compositions and ideas in this way.  It's very folk influenced with it's 9/8 feel (like a slip jig) and simple melody, although harmonically it involves a more complex jazz structure. The piece is named after 'Mr Thomas's Chop House' the Victorian pub in Manchester near St Ann's Square where the band would congregate after a day of rehearsals (the front cover of the album features a painting entitled 'Thomas's Chop House' by a Manchester based artist, Liz Taylor-Webb, a mentee of Lowry too).  In fact, most of the writing for the album occurred after the festival.

I’d been playing with Dave Manington and Tim Giles since meeting them at college in many different ensembles and formats, and as well as being great friends, we’d always had a strong musical rapport knowing each other’s playing inside out after so many years.  With this strong basis, it has been possible to use the material as a springboard to explore the open quality that the sparser format provides.  This line up and repertoire gives us an opportunity to push at the boundaries, playing openly and freely whilst having the knowledge that we can rely on each other for some solidity and grounding at any given point. 


My Lagan Love - In The Chophouse




The arrangement of  My Lagan Love uses a pedal to reflect the sound of a drone as I wanted to keep the sound true to the folk nuances of the original but I also added in a few snippets of contemporary jazz harmony later in the piece.  This folk ballad then segues into In the Chophouse, which originally had been a variation I had written on My Lagan Love but had gradually mutated into a different tune with a more contemporary jazz sound, so I thought it fitting that the two went together in this manner on the album. 

Dave plays a lovely open cadenza marrying the two tunes up seamlessly.  Dave has been brought up on folk music too and is very influenced by it, and he plays really beautifully on both tunes.  I love Tim's open approach on this type of material as well and his textural approach and ability to play with extremes of dynamics really lends itself to this genre. 

On both tunes I use false fingerings on the sax to give the effect of slides reflecting the approach I'd have when playing folk tunes on penny whistle and I also use a lot of ornamentation such as rolls and cuts (again techniques I'd use when playing in the folk genre on violin or whistle) which hopefully infuses the two tunes with a traditional folk sound.

Since the album we've had the opportunity to play all over the UK and at festivals at home and abroad including the Manchester Jazz Festival and Sudtirol Jazz Festival in Italy.  This has given us the opportunity to really develop the repertoire and the way we interact as a trio.  I was also commissioned to write a new work for the trio for the London Jazz Festival in 2014 which premiered at the Purcell Tori Freestone TrioRooms.  This is based on a sea shanty called The Press Gang which is very special to me as sea shanties were a big part of the repertoire in the folk clubs all those years back (my family on my father's side all worked on the river Thames going right back to the 1700s and being a musical family, a lot of these traditional tunes had been passed down through the generations). 


Tori Freestone Trio
Photograph by Franco Silvestri


The new work is going to feature on the next album which I'll be recording for the Whirlwind label in November 2015 and I'm extremely excited about this.  The trio have developed so much since the first album and the new repertoire is really coming together too.  It's been a musically inspiring journey since that week in the Chophouse with the trio and also with some of the other fantastic ensembles and musicians I've been lucky enough to record and tour with and I feel extremely privileged to be on this journey with so many inspiring artists. 

Click here for Tori Freestone's website.

Click here to listen to other tracks from In The Chophouse.

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2015

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Visit some of our other Full Focus pages:

Dave Maningon's Riff Raff - Agile
Tommy Andrews - Crystal Car
Sam Braysher - Braysher On Bird