By Cree McCree | Published February 2021
With As We Stand, Tori Handsley’s debut leader date, the electric harpist, keyboardist and vocalist stares down the future with a hard-hitting trio every bit as committed to her vision as she is.
As a major force on the U.K. scene, which frequently melds jazz with electronica and post-rock soundscapes, Handsley’s played with a host of notables, from Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia to Yussef Dayes and Evan Parker. But she really hits her stride with drummer Moses Boyd and bassist Ruth Goller, both longtime collaborators.
With “What’s In A Tune,” the album’s final track, Handsley rails against today’s toxic environmental landscape, sometimes explicitly with her lyrics. On “As We Stand,” the opener, she invokes “the power of nature’s voice,” while the keening lament “Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind” takes on the gluttonous who “Gorge as we forage/ Consume and discard.” Elsewhere, the music itself is the message. On “Polar Retreat,” you literally hear fragile polar ice caps melting, while Handley’s electrifying harp shoots the rapids and the trio navigates through the oft-polluted “Rivers Of Mind.”
Though not every track packs the punch augured by the “What’s In A Tune” single, that’s mostly by design. For in lamenting what we’re losing or already have lost, Handley also pays tribute to what remains. “Kestrel” invokes the Mauritius kestrel, one of conservation’s few success stories, which almost went the way of the dodo but now is “Flyin’ high/ Over time/ Space breathes/ At your feet.”
As We Stand: Rivers Of Mind; Convolution; Polar Retreat; Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind; Home; Settling Into The Sun; Intwination; As We Stand; Kestrel; What’s In A Tune. (61:51)
Personnel: Tori Handsley, electric harp, piano, vocals; Ruth Goller, bass; Moses Boyd, drums; Sahra Gure (4, 8, 9), vocals.