If you root around on the Net for “Tony Bevan”, what mostly pops up is the work of a UK artist of that name who specializes in bleak, twisted drawings of people’s heads, à la Bacon or Freud. All told, you’d probably have more fun with an album by Tony Bevan the saxophonist, one of the most tuneful and distinctive of free jazz hornplayers, who has a classic respect for eloquent diatonic improvisation (ultimately Lester Young-derived, though it’s Marsh and Rollins he cites as influences) along with an obsession with darting, off-balance repetitions that means that even in free-form situations the music’s got a gratifying bounce.
This latest release on his Foghorn label adds extra sonic / rhythmic crosshatching to his favourite sax / bass / drums format via the live electronics work of Paul Obermayer. Obermayer is half of information-overload laptop improv duo FURT (with Richard Barrett) as well as a member of another equally full-bore, all-caps ensemble, BARK! His contributions here, though, are sparse and splintery, percussive but never overpowering the music. His palette is often surprising – I’m guessing that some of it derives from clunking around the innards of a piano – and even when he uses stereotypically computery noises such as R2D2 bleeps and twitters they sound fresh and entirely responsive to the moment.
The album is pleasingly varied, each track having its own distinctive profile. “Rock Me Baby”, for instance, is like a Rollins trio coming under heavy fire; “Got You Sucker!” turns deep yawns and farmyard noises into loops of elasticized funk; “He’s Spartacus” throws together free-jazz fisticuffs and appreciative pigeon coos. Most tracks are fairly short, and while they typically explore a small sonic area they can also throw in some good-natured dramatic reversals and hotly-contested climaxes: on “Heart of Stone”, for instance, bassist Dom Lash wrestles with Obermayer’s own wilting bassline while sonar pings attack Bevan’s soprano, the saxophonist eventually achieving victory by nabbing the bassline for himself. It’s a pleasure to hear Bevan employ a wider range of instruments than usual: in addition to his bruising tenor and bass sax, there’s a good helping of soprano, and even a rare sighting of his flute on a gaspathon drolly titled “Giants of Jazz-Funk”.
The real discovery for me, though, was drummer Phil Marks: the longest piece, “One Punch and Out”, is virtually a showcase for him, where he covers a huge range from toy-box rummaging to stinging cymbal attack to multidirectional splatter and rumble.
All told, A Big Hand is about as far in mood and texture as you can imagine from Bevan’s other electronics-inflected improv project, Bruise (where the melting soundscapes are provided by Ashley Wales), but the results are just as unusual and rewarding.
ND – Paris Transatlantic