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by Tim Owen

March 08, 2011


This album is pure pleasure. Abstract though this music may be, nothing is ever over-blown, over-elaborated or pushed to extremes.

Tony Bevan, Paul Obermayer, Phil Marks, Dominic Lash

“A Big Hand”


The opening number on A Big Hand, “Rock Me Baby” kicks proceedings off with a terrific solo by saxophonist Tony Bevan followed by a punchy joint entry, in honoured free jazz style, by bass and drums. But what are those other, stranger noises peppering the mix moments later? Those are shards of expertly generated electronic sound, courtesy of Paul Obermayer.

Obermayer is one half of laptop improvising duo FURT (I reviewed their album “Sense” for the Jazz Mann in 2009), as well as an old sparring partner of the current session’s drummer Phil Marks, with whom he played in BARK!. Here, Obermayer and Marks in particular combine to glorious effect. Marks’ playing is extraordinary throughout. He’s characteristically fidgety, in a constant state of agitated motion, yet somehow always hits the apposite mark. On “One Punch and Out” Tony Bevan has a fine time playing around the fragmentary silences that divide each percussive/electronic sound event. Double bassist Dominic Lash is the perfect foil for this motley but hugely talented company, thriving here on a diet of discreet bass intervention and textural enrichment that’s a world away from the usual bassist’s fare of solid rhythm pulse provision.

Bevan is a melodic lynchpin holding together a group that might otherwise get carried away with pure textural (inter)play. “Lonely Girl “could be an oblique tribute to its close namesake, Ornette’s “Lonely Woman”, thanks to a plangent Bevan solo that compels his companions’ attentions to rub along with the developing theme. The still centre can’t hold for long though; the following “Box of Frogs” is, as the title suggests, altogether more frenetic. Always, though, this album is pure pleasure. The relative brevity and variety of its tunes helps, and the easeful air of open experimentation, which all the evidence here suggests characterised the two days of recording, make it effortlessly enjoyable. Abstract though this music may be, nothing is ever over-blown, over-elaborated or pushed to extremes.

The contrarily titled “Giants (of Jazz Funk)” has Bevan blowing across or onto his flute (he switches between soprano, tenor, or bass saxophone or flute over the course of the album) to produce a resonant huffing sound, while Obermayer interjects hard to differentiate electronic noises. Lash contributes grainy bow work while Marks patters and swirls brushes. It’s an intriguing interlude, and the quartet is content to leave it at that. The next track, “I am Not a Lizard”, follows a more typical course from exploratory electronics, probed and teased into an abstracted form of call-and-response dialogue, to Bevan’s plunge into a tenor solo in more-or less classic post-Impulse! style. He initially trails his colleagues in his wake in a perversely leisurely aural equivalent of a roiling cartoon punch-up, all plinks, thwacks and thuds, the skill and the finesse of which is bought home by the effortless and tuneful way in which the piece is resolved.

Although there’s no stand-out musician here the ear is constantly pricked by Obermayer’s contributions, and the ease with which he improvises with tools that render many musicians rather stilted or prone to accidental digression in live performance. Anthony Braxton was incorporating electronics man Richard Teitelbaum’s moog into his music back in the mid ?70s, and Obermayer’s presence here is in that tradition. He fits into this combo much as Ashley Wales fitted into an earlier Bevan outfit, Bruised. He’s an integral part of this quartet, and helps shape its dynamic. He’s a more confident and iconoclastic musician than, say, Polar Bear’s Leafcutter John. At the start of “Like a Stone” Obermayer toys with a single pianistic ?tink’, but generally the ability of electronics to mimic or evoke ?found’ sound isn’t often exploited here. Obermayer very much has his own sound.

The most immediate pleasures of this album are to be derived from its fresh sound combinations. On the closing number, “Got You Sucker”, for instance, the quartet drive through a series of staccato stabs and blurts, making some truly astonishing sounds in the process, yet it’s a far more seriously assiduous recording than any description of it could possibly convey.

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