Tony Bevan/Paul Obermayer/Paul Marks/Dominic Lash

A Big Hand
Foghorn FCGD012

Credited for having rescued the bass saxophone from the clown role in which it has been relegated since the 1920s, British saxophonist Tony Bevan usually works in the all-acoustic area with the likes of drummer Sunny Murray or guitarist Derek Bailey. While he has toyed with electronics in the past, A Big Hand is watershed recording for all concerned, since everyone involved is fully conversant with electro-acoustic improv. Bevan, who plays soprano, tenor and bass saxophones plus flute here, lined up a novel – for him– group of associates for the CD. For a start, electronic manipulator Paul Obermayer is in the long-established electro-improv duo FURT. Besides his acoustic work, drummer Phil Marks is also one-third of electronic combo Bark alongside Obermayer; while busy bassist Dominic Lash has recently been recording as part of a microtonal duo.

Almost without exception the tracks position Bevan’s abrasive, pressurized and often multiphonic variations from either measured biting tenor saxophone or guttural baritone saxophone alongside Obermayer’s wiggling and crackling aleatory impulses. Lash adds strokes raging from sul tasto rubs to out-and-out walking as Marks colors the proceedings with pumps, ruffs, methodical and irregular cymbal smacks plus rim shots.

Marks’ systematic percussion build up is obvious on “One Punch and Out”, where his rolls and wire-brush cymbal slaps mixing with Lash’s bass thumps and string swipes presage spetrofluctuation from Obermayer’s whiny wave forms and resonating bass sax blasts from Bevan. As Obermayer’s electronics separate into grinding and peeping bleeps and blips and the bassist’s friction plus drummer’s ruffs turn abrasive, the saxophonist showcases an extended series of altissimo cries plus almost literally chewable portions of chunky tongue slaps.

Similarly Bevan’s strained cries seem nearly never-ending when he displays them on “I Am Not a Lizard”. Here, tongue flutters and mercurial note clusters are echoed by Lash’s muscular string plucks and cymbal clacks, while the strident, signal-split flanges and keyboard styled rococo patterning and oscillations from Obermayer slide around the other sounds.

With the saxophonist’s often cavernously pitched split tones and reed biting presented as powerfully as if he was in an acoustic Free Jazz setting, most tracks are variations on this same theme. Bevan produces nephritic high-pitched squeaks in sympathy with Obermayer’s ratcheting oscillations or uses a stuttering chromatic run to intersect with booting bass-strings and electronically created clinking pianisms.

Still, as the quartet demonstrates on “Heart of Stone”, contrapuntal improvising doesn’t have to take place at a frenzied pace. With Lash’s stretched spiccato and Marks’ subtle press rolls and flams layering the background, Obermayer’s circuit-breaking pulsations meet up with Bevan’s carefully measured puffs and slurs. Concurrently, dramatic laptop processing further comments on the saxophonist’s moderato reed pressure and stops.

In truth, isolating CD highlights is difficult, since the entire program is at such a high standard. Overall, Bevan never lets the electronic impulses become intrusive enough to control the session. Instead computer impulses and extended instrumental techniques accent an already established conception. Taken together the variations provide new avenues for individual and group-focused improvisations.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Rock Me Baby 2. Heart of Stone 3. They Smell Like Giants 4. Lonely Girl 5. Box of Frogs 6. One Punch and Out 7. He’s Spartacus 8. Giants (of Jazz-Funk) 9. I Am Not a Lizard 10. Got You Sucker!

Personnel: Tony Bevan (soprano, tenor and bass saxophones and flute); Paul Obermayer (electronics); Dominic Lash (bass) and Phil Marks (drums)