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Tony Oxley: A Birthday Tribute--75 Years

John Eyles By

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As its title indicates, this album was released to mark the occasion of drummer Tony Oxley's seventy-fifth birthday (which occurred on June 15 2013.) Fittingly, it is released on Incus, the ground-breaking label that Oxley established in 1970 with Derek Bailey and Evan Parker, frequently cited as "the first independent musician-run record label in Britain" (just about true because of the inclusion of "independent"—which rules out The Beatles' Apple label—and of "in Britain," which rules out Debut set up by Max Roach and Charles Mingus in the early fifties.)

The music here all originates from unreleased live sessions. From 1993, comes a quartet with Bailey, Pat Thomas and Matt Wand (from Stock, Hausen and Walkman) of the same vintage as their fine album Tony Oxley / Derek Bailey Quartet (Jazzwerkstatt, 2008). From 1977 come a duo with Paul Rutherford on trombone and electronics, a trio with violinist Phillip Wachsmann and guitarist Ian Brighton, and a solo piece. Altogether, the album is a gift not to Oxley himself but to fans of the music which he and Incus championed and epitomised—classic improv. It showcases Oxley in a variety of situations and is eloquent testimony to his talents as a musician. (Incidentally, Oxley is a man of many talents and another is displayed on the sleeve which reproduces one of his paintings.)

The opening quartet, "Colour Fields," is the album's longest at over twenty-seven minutes and is a tour de force performance by all four players. The combination of the "elder statesmen" Oxley and Bailey with the far younger Thomas and Wand speaks volumes about Incus's openness and sense of adventure; as with so many of the label's daring ventures, the foursome works and interacts well. There is plenty of room for all four players to be heard clearly, with the two senior partners both in top form, well supported and complemented by Thomas's fractured keyboards and the occasional surreal interjection by Wand's samples. The second quartet piece, "Urban Forms," is briefer but just as effective, with Bailey particularly powerful.

The transition from the 1993 tracks to those recorded in 1977 is smooth, with the sixteen-year difference revealing no obvious stylistic or technical differences. The drummer's duo with another colossus of the music, Rutherford, is a summit meeting in which each employs electronics, Oxley to amplify his kit, the trombonist to treat his horn; the end result is a breathtaking maelstrom of acoustic and electronic sounds which could so easily be the work of four players; at just over seven minutes, it leaves one craving far more of the same. The trio with Wachsmann's violin and Brighton's guitar—Oxley still amplifying his kit—is in complete contrast; its juxtaposition with the preceding duo highlights what a versatile and mercurial player Oxley is. Appropriately, his birthday tribute concludes with the drummer alone with his kit and electronics, giving a performance which shows why he has been one of the best for so long.

Happy birthday, Tony. Long may you reign.

Track Listing: Colour Fields; Urban Forms; Kelson; The Earth Sounds; Times

Personnel: Tony Oxley: drums, percussion; Derek Bailey: guitar (1, 2); Pat Thomas: keyboards (1, 2); Matt Wand: sampler (1, 2); Paul Rutherford: trombone, electronics (3); Phillip Wachsmann: violin (4); Ian Brighton: guitar (4).

Title: A Birthday Tribute--75 Years | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Incus

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