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"Free Hand" comes from Gentle Giant's frenetic creative period in the mid 70's. It's the shortest and most easily digestible of these albums. Their spiky dissonances are mostly smoothed out, in favour of more accessible songs. But it's still recognisably Gentle Giant, and they haven't stinted on creativity. The songs are still intricate and restlessly changing, and the playing note-perfect.
Each of the tracks has its own distinctive character. The maddening instrumental flourishes that go on for ever are back in "Just the Same". This casually uptempo song is also coloured with a little jazz passage. Despite their tendencies to twiddliness, Gentle Giant rarely ventured into actual jazz. "On Reflection" fills the "far too clever for its own good" slot as "Knots" did on "Octopus"! This umpteen-part vocal and tuned-percussion fugue calms down in the middle with a gentle folky ballad. On the title track there's a great mishmash of energetic playing on top of a firmly confident song about being glad to have dumped someone. "TimeTo Kill" is slightly more hesitant, The most beautiful song here is definitely "His Last Voyage". A lovely lilting melody for two singers, accompanied by 12-string guitar emerges from a sparkling bass and vibes background, and recurs several times before floating away. The medieval pipes and drums are whipped out for the folky instrumental "Talybont", which has an interesting out-of-time playing effect. "Mobile" isn't a very interesting song, but ends with a drum surprise.
All in all, I'd recommend this to new listeners who want a taste of this interesting, but underrated, band.
December 21, 2003