Tori Handsley Trio @ Vortex

Tori Handsley Trio – Vortex Jazz Club 17-11-14

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

As part of the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival, award-winning music venue Vortex Jazz Club played host to the Tori Handsley Trio, one of the U.K.’s most unique, creative, innovative and dynamic bands. Comprising of composer/arranger Tori Handsley on harp/piano and featuring Harry Pope on drums and Misha Mullov-Abbado on double bass, this versatile trio have been delighting audiences across the country over the past two years with their eclectic and contemporary mix of Jazz, Classical, Rock and Reggae influenced vibes. Most of the tracks performed on the evening were lifted from the trio’s eponymous superlative debut EP, released January 2015.

After acknowledging a fine set by the Ollie Howell Quintet, and prior to introducing Tori’s trio, Gordon Parker, our host, gave us a brief, but essential, insight into the unique concept behind the Vortex Jazz Club – A concept and philosophy also very dear to us all at ukvibe:

“… It’s wonderful for musicians to play to a full room like this, so please come back. We’re a not-for-profit Jazz Club, which means that the only people taking money are the musicians, the cleaner and the security guard on the door – nobody else is paid! The sound engineer, behind the bar work, we’re all volunteers… So we do it for the music, and would like you to come back and listen to the music. If you want to do a bit more, then put your name down to volunteer as well and help out… We have a bit of history of a bucket at the Vortex, so we do accept donations!”

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Tori Handsley – harp/piano
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

And with that alternative introduction, the host handed the stage over to the Tori Handsley Trio to rapt applause. Ms Handsley is the embodiment of the term ‘Alternative Jazz Musician’. The fact that she is a harp player who heads up a Jazz trio, to some would be alternative enough. However on first viewing, the site of a young lady attired in casual street gear of of trademark Hi Top trainers and ‘torn at the knee’ jeans, a Miles Davis image imprinted black t-shirt and black trilby hat, perched behind such an imposing yet beautiful stringed instrument would scramble many people’s pre-conceptions of a ‘typical’ harpist.

However, once the angelic and ethereal solo harp vibes of ‘Settling Into The Sun’ permeated throughout the intimate space of Vortex Jazz Club, all present were instantly brought under Tori’s magical spell and any preconceptions melted away in a nanosecond. If a tune can be described as having ‘musical gears’ then ‘Settling Into The Sun’ is such a tune. An analogy could be made to cycling up a hill, gradually shifting gears whilst gaining momentum as the road flattened out towards its crest, then effectively shifting to top gear and freewheeling down the other side of the hill. The driving incessant rhythm provided by Harry Pope on drums, backed metronomically by Misha Mullov-Abbado on bass, did indeed bring a new definition to the term ‘drum and bass.’

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Misha Mullov-Abbado
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

With Tori Handsley metaphorically flitting between both drummer and bass player, the emotional rollercoaster the trio took us on during this one tune is testament to both their individual and combined skill sets. In keeping with the EP track-listing, ‘Settling Into The Sun’ was the first song played on the night, and as dynamic as the tune sounds on record, the ‘live’ and immediate impact of this tune is something to be savoured. Ms Handsley then introduced ‘Home’, a most sublime, yet intoxicating Jazz composition, which again highlighted to maximum effect the mental telepathy between these three musicians.

The increasing rapid plucking of Tori’s harp strings married neatly with Misha’s deep and moody bass tones, setting up Harry’s superlative, and off-the-scale drum solo. With symbols, hi-hats and drumsticks all a blur. Mr Pope was one hundred percent engaged in the moment, showcasing why he is one of the hottest young Jazz drummers on the UK circuit. The whoops and instinctive shrieks of excitement and appreciation from audience members were richly deserved. As with the previous tune, the audience were taken through the musical equivalent of both rough and smooth terrains. ‘Home’ is most definitely a tune to write home about.

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Harry Pope – drums
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

An abstract Modal Jazz feel was evident from the outset with the trio’s third offering ‘Mistake of Thinking Parts One and Two’. The delicate and sensitive way in which all three artists gently caressed and manipulated their instruments conjured up equally abstract images of tentatively walking on rice paper without tearing it, or carrying a full glass of water on your head without spilling a drop, or moreover attempting to do both at the same time! The dramatic comedown from the frenetic to-ing and fro-ing of the opening two numbers was marked indeed, but again highlighted dexterity, control and musical maturity of these three young musicians.

On completion of the tune, Tori informed those present as to where she got her inspiration to write: “That last piece was called ‘Mistake of Thinking’. We played it in a Part A and a Part B tonight for anyone who’s heard it before, if you can distinguish the difference. The song was inspired after going to a conference on creativity and the brain and there were a whole load of neuroscientists at the conference and some Jazz musicians who were improvising. The idea of the evening was to explore creativity and brain mapping and try to unravel why these things happen… An hour or two later I left very frustrated, and it illustrated to me exactly why you can’t put into words or explain some of the beautiful things about creativity. And I think anyone in the audience who’s creative in whatever way you work, if you’re an artist, poet or anything else, knows that the most creative moments are the ones that are unplanned and spontaneous. And I hope that we celebrate that and the things that we can’t explain.”

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Tori Handsley – harp/piano
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

Seven rapid fire clicks of Harry Pope’s drumsticks signalled that normal business had been resumed. The pace, power and chugging urgency of ‘Precious Bird’ holistically stimulated mind, body and soul for a full three minutes, before abating as Tori slowed the pace right down with a reflective, introspective harp solo; each note floating lightly up into the ether, whilst also evoking images of crystal clear waters trickling down melting Nordic glaciers. Very soon, the trickle became a cascade as the tempo increased, accompanied by Harry’s military style drum patterns and Misha’s hardcore bass licks for a further minute before snapping to an abrupt halt, leaving the audience emotionally drained but satisfied by the intensity of the piece.

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Tori Handsley – harp/piano
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

Our versatile main protagonist then gave us a mini preamble by way of introduction to the next composition ‘Convolution’. “I’m now going to dance over to the piano. The next tune is a very recent composition of mine that took a hell of a long time getting out. I tend to write very intuitively, just as things come into my head and I try not to work it out at all until afterwards… This song probably took about six months, just working and working but it still came really naturally, I literally felt like I had given birth! Anyway I hope you enjoy this, this is called ‘Convolution’.”

And with that Tori, a recent inductee to the Jazz Warriors International family, smartly negotiated her way around her harp, realigned herself behind the piano, before playing a soft yet pronounced piano chord intro to the fifth track of their already impressive set list. Both Misha and Harry took their cue, and faithfully followed Tori’s lead, with Misha in particular getting extremely animated on his double bass, his hands traversing swiftly up and down the neck of the tall and handsomely built mahogany instrument. Unsurprisingly, this seemed to galvanise Mr Pope into delivering even more pulsating drumming on the skins.

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Harry Pope – drums
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

The mesmerising intertwining of piano, bass and drums, created a swirling vortex of sound within this aptly named venue. Although ‘Convolution’ is a wholly original composition, its catchy musical loop will keep recurring within your cochlear for many an hour afterwards and become ever so familiar. The penultimate track of the evening was the intriguingly titled ‘The Other Side of the Tracks’, which became even more intriguing as the tune, or moreover the story, unfolded. Like an Italian Millefoglie cake, the delicate musical layers kept on building one on top of another – fluid harp melodies, on top of robust bass rhythms, on top of staccato style drum beats. All of a sudden, four minutes and fifteen seconds into the tune the trio blindsided all and sundry when the pronounced plucking of Tori’s harp-strings acted as a catalyst for an abrupt 180° switch in musical direction, changing down the tempo into the rawest of roots reggae rhythms – likened to slowing your heart rate down from 180 bpm to 50 bpm in an instant. Somehow it worked, fabulously! – Sly (Dunbar) and Robbie (Shakespeare) would be proud!

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Tori Handsley – harp/piano
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

This scribe for one, has never heard a harp played within the context of roots reggae rhythm, and the more Ms Handsley infused her beguiling harmonic harp tones into the mix, the more I began to wonder why I had not because it is truly a musical marriage which sits so comfortably within the genre, surprising as that may sound. The trio rode out the groove for the next three and a half minutes, receiving extended applause at its conclusion, and then all too soon we had arrived at the last song of a most captivating and refreshing set. Taking time out to acknowledge her partners in rhythm, Tori, mindful of the venue and the stage she was performing on, proceeded to edify Vortex Jazz Club: “Gordon said most of the things that I wanted to say about the Vortex. This is a very special place. I’ve been coming here for years and years to see music, so it’s an enormous pleasure to be playing here, especially for the (EFG London) Jazz Festival. But it is an amazing, amazing place, just for art in general…

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Tori Handsley – harp/piano
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

… Gina’s paintings are on the walls. Gina’s here today painting, which has made my day. Gina Southgate over there, please take a look at her work. And as Gordon said if you can spare a few pennies, all the guys here are just volunteers and it’s really just the most amazing thing that they’re all doing collaboratively. It was also ‘Jazz venue of the year’ last year, so it is a pretty incredible achievement…The last thing is to thank everybody for coming; it’s been such a fantastic audience tonight, it always is here, but especially tonight! Tonight’s been really wonderful. So thank you for being so supportive and giving such a warm house tonight. So thank you to everyone.”

All that was left was for the lady with the dextrous fingers to explain the abstract way in which ‘What’s In A Tune’ the final piece the trio would perform on the night came to fruition (written whilst tuning and retuning her precision instrument). Tori then signed off by thanking everyone for coming again and wishing that everybody enjoys the remainder of the Jazz festival. At this juncture I’m running out of superlatives to describe their final number, but they did indeed leave the best until last. The trademark Tori Handsley Trio’s relentless breakneck speed rhythm and bass groove was in full effect as they seemingly drew on energy sources from the outer limits. Misha and Tori made their respective stringed instruments sing to heaven up on high, sparring at a rapid rate off one another.

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Tori Handsley – harp/piano
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

The path was then laid for rear gunner and beats master extraordinaire Harry Pope, who didn’t disappoint. As they say in West Indian dialect, “Mash It up man!”. Well, the young Mr Pope did indeed “mash it up” and then some – elbows and arms jutting out at obtuse angles. Hi hats, symbols bass drum, rim shots; all incorporated one final, fervent, furious flurry of emotional and rhythmic expression. The old adage of always leave the crowd wanting more definitely held true once this tune was finished. The Tori Handsley Trio are a definite must-see experience on the live platform. It’s highly recommended that you diarise the date should they be playing in your town, village or Hamlet in 2015.

Michael J Edwards

Essential EP: Tori Handsley Trio (ukvibe EP Review)

Essential Websites:
www.torihandsleytrio.com
soundcloud.com/tori-handsley
torishands.com/
Vortex Jazz Club
artist gina southgate
EFG London Jazz Festival.org.uk/

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Tori Handsley and Gina Southgate (painter of live music)
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

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