Sunny Murray/John Edwards/Tony Bevan

I Stepped Onto a Bee
Foghorn FGCD 014

Justly praised as a master improviser on bass saxophone – to be honest, competition is very slim – Oxford-based Tony Bevan is also a first-rate tenor saxophone soloist, something that hasn’t often been showcased in recent years. I Stepped Onto a Bee rectifies this omission with Bevan exercising his tenor chops on a six-part invention, working in tandem with London-based bassist John Edwards and legendary Free Jazz drummer Sunny Murray now domiciled in Paris.

Edwards who has played with everyone from saxophonist Evan Parker to the Stellari String Quartet adds jabs, plucks and strums to the tracks here, while Murray, whose list of associates starts with pianist Cecil Taylor and saxophonist Albert Ayler and goes on from there, is sympathetic in his backing, ranging from martial rat-tat-tats to bounces, ruffs and slaps. Above all though, it’s Bevan’s show, as he weaves variation after variation, using legato and extended techniques.

As is probably obvious from the punning title, the program is initially a contrafact of “You Stepped Out of a Dream”. But during the extended reed essay, the saxophonist also alludes to other American songbook standards such as “Bubbles, Bangles and Beads” and “Gypsy in my Soul”. Not that any of the melodies are ever exposed to full recognition as older tenor saxophone interpreters such as Dexter Gordon or Sonny Rollins would do. On the other hand, the wit of the proceedings, coupled with the intensity in Bevan’s playing, brings to mind some of Rollins’ mid-century sax-bass-drum milestones like Way Out West.

Further east and closer to the Atlantic in a London studio many years later, Bevan’s way-out playing not only showcases deep-breathing flutter tonguing and legato vibrations, but also come to junctures where his strained glossolalia and rough reed bites bring out his axe’s metallic properties. At the same time, while he may exhibit Aylerian altissimo cries or guttural foghorn blasts – he has quite a familiarity with in the saxophones’ basso regions – this is all done at an andante gait with balladic nonchalance.

The bassist thumps and slaps when needed, and adds arpeggio-laden interjections elsewhere. For his part Murray contributes irregular rolls and paradiddles at times; drags and bass drum pops at others; and brings forth beats as different as pseudo-waltz time and shuffles. Most instructively, while Bevan’s narrative includes pressurized Morse-code-like bites and intense growling friction in equal measure, the balance among the three never shifts. It may be Murray who slows down the tempo to medium, or Edwards whose plucks stabilize it, but overall the results are concurrently impressionistically emphasized and steely inventive

With high quality work like this on show throughout the CD, maybe Bevan should bring out his smaller horn in public more often.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. I Stepped Onto a Bee Part 1 2. I Stepped Onto a Bee Part II 3. I Stepped Onto a Bee Part III 4. I Stepped Onto a Bee Part IV 5. I Stepped Onto a Bee Part V 6. I Stepped Onto a Bee Part VI

Personnel: Tony Bevan (tenor saxophone); John Edwards (bass) and Sunny Murray (drums and voice)