The natural phenomenon of the Canary Islands’ ‘sea of clouds’ is an exhilarating experience – a highland ascent which rewards with views across the shifting stratocumulus ocean surrounding El Teide (the highest point in Spain) and her neighboring summits. It’s a landscape which has proved endlessly inspirational for tenor saxophonist and composer Tori Freestone, and a special impetus for El Mar de Nubes, her third trio album with double bassist Dave Manington and drummer Tim Giles.
Those illusory impressions of sea and mountains focused Freestone’s thoughts on the concept of seeing the world from different perspectives. As such, they present a metaphor for this bond of creative minds to unearth the myriad possibilities in the saxophonist’s writing. Parallels were also discovered between her walks in ‘las montañas’ and Casper David Friedrich’s much-loved painting ‘Wanderer above a Sea of Fog’ (echoed in the album’s cover), including the story that some have viewed his work upside down, believing the clouds are waves and the water is sky.
“At the close of 2017”, explains Freestone, “I blocked out time to stay in Tenerife, to be alone in the mountains where my thoughts flow freely; and I was there during the New Year when the supermoon was visible. To arrive in the alien landscape of El Teide on New Year's Day after viewing the sea of clouds en route was incredible, followed by the moon appearing brighter than the sun as the evening drew in due to the super moon being at it's strongest that particular day.” Over the following days, Tori noted down words which, in retrograde, came to inform the rhythms, modulations and harmonies of the title track and her new instrumentals on this album. Might the mountains have been singing their stories?
Since 2014’s ‘In the Chop House’, and then 2016’s ‘El Barranco’, Freestone’s near-chordless trio has established itself as an especially kaleidoscopic, improvisatory unit. Ideas surge expressively from the trademark wellspring of her tenor, and there’s palpable equilibrium and discovery between all three players.
The lyrical basis of Tori’s searching title track – “Standing alone, above a sea of clouds…” – is heard as she threads melodic lines amongst its undulating bass-and-percussion swell; and the split personality of ‘Hiding Jekyll’ is portrayed through overlapping rhythms and tempi. ‘Los Indianos’ (La Palma’s carnival) recalls the years touring as a violinist with Cuban bands, its vitality described by the saxophonist as “a vibey, messed-up calypso groove”; and new-year thoughts of the past and future are explored in the metric modulations of ‘La nochevieja’. Dave Manington’s impetuous ‘Hasta la vista’ adds boppish verve, and ‘El Camino’ creates freedom for imaginative saxophonic torrents. Sam Rivers’ elegant ‘Beatrice’, referencing Joe Henderson’s ‘The State of the Tenor’ release, is a standard the trio played early on in their formation with the two renditions of the sea shanty ‘Shenandoah’ (including a version featuring Freestone on violin and vocals) an old favorite from the leader’s folk-music beginnings with her family.
“This project means so much to me”, enthuses Tori, “and I feel we’ve reached the next level with this album, playing so openly, always ready for the unexpected.” It’s that ability to seek out new pathways which provides El Mar de Nubes with such deep-rooted beauty, color and interest.