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Tony Oxley: Beaming

John Eyles By

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Tony Oxley: Beaming


Since 2010, album releases from drummer Tony Oxley (born 1938) have become increasingly scarce and poignant. A Birthday Tribute—75 Years (Incus, 2013) comprised live recordings from 1977 and 1993—featuring trombonist Paul Rutherford and guitarist Derek Bailey, respectively, both long gone—issued to mark Oxley's birthday. Its appearance on Incus was a reminder that Oxley was part of the threesome, along with Bailey and Evan Parker, which set up the influential label back in 1970. The years since 2013 have passed without further releases on Incus, making it seem possible that Oxley's album will be the label's last. The limited-edition vinyl album, Ailanthus / Altissima (Triple Point Records, 2010) and the CD Birdland, Neuburg, 2011 (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2020), recorded in 2008 and 2010, respectively, feature Oxley in a duo with the late, great pianist Cecil Taylor, the two having frequently played together after bonding during Taylor's renowned 1988 Berlin sojourn.

So, it is a pleasure to welcome the release of Beaming which was recorded at Oxley's studio in his home in Viersen, Germany, in November 2019. Remarkably, Oxley is not credited with playing drums; instead, acoustic percussion was played by Stefan Hölker whose association with Oxley dates back to the '90s when he was one of the four drummers in Oxley's Celebration Orchestra which recorded The Enchanted Messenger (Soul Note, 1995) at JazzFest, Berlin, in 1994. Instead of drums, Oxley is credited with "electronics and concept," the concept being to combine contemporary improvisations with 1972 recordings of Oxley playing his 'frames.' In his book Improvisation (Da Capo, 1993) Bailey described the amplified section of Oxley's kit as, "amplified frame containing cymbals, wires, various kitchen equipment, motor generators, springs, used with 3 contact mikes (home-made), 2 volume pedals. 1 octave splitter, 1 compressor, 1 ring modulator and oscillator, 1 amplifier and 2 speakers." That makes it clear why Oxley is credited with "electronics," and also why this album's six tracks are all entitled "Frame" plus a number. The tracks vary in length from three-and-a-half minutes to fourteen-and-a-half, fifty minutes altogether.

Although the ingredients are clear—2019 Oxley, 2019 Hölker, 1972 frame recordings—the actual methodology of combining them is murkier, so it seems better to appreciate the end results rather than probe deeper. Despite being created by two drummers, while their music has a definite pulse, they do not overtly keep time; instead, using that uncanny knack which the best improvising drummers have, they pay attention to textural sounds while ensuring the underlying pulse remains implicit throughout. The six tracks are as different as their durations, some of that difference being due to the contents of the particular frames recorded in 1972; sometimes the sounds of pots and pans being struck are clearly audible, while elsewhere metallic scrapings dominate the soundscape. Altogether, the combination of the three ingredients works well; they never clash or work against one another, but together combine to create soundscapes which are deep and rich in detail, making them endlessly fascinating. A triumph for Oxley and Hölker.

Track Listing

Frame I; Frame II; Frame III; Frame IV; Frame V; Frame VI.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Tony Oxley: electronics and concept; Stefan Hölker: acoustic percussion.

Album information

Title: Beaming | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Confront Recordings

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