Tony Oxley: The New World

In this 2022 session the late drummer focuses on electronic sounds while his colleague Stefan Hölker provides acoustic percussion


A drummer of exceptional resource and range, in 1969 Oxley appeared on two classic and signally different albums: John McLaughlin’s Extrapolation (with, a.o., John Surman) and Oxley’s own The Baptised Traveller (with, a.o.,Evan Parker). Advanced as it was, Extrapolation – for many, including me, a key album of British modern jazz – retained the swinging juice of jazz, while Traveller essayed a more abstracted path into the challenging terrain of avant-garde poetics.

House drummer at Ronnie Scott’s in the mid-to-late 1960s, Oxley was already working with fellow Yorkshireman Derek Bailey (who appears on Traveller). Such a rare dualism of creative capacity continued to distinguish Oxley, who worked with such distinctive artists as Tomasz Stanko, Bobo Stenson and Cecil Taylor. 

In the mid-1970s Oxley – who would become seriously involved in painting and whose work features on the cover of this release – collaborated with the painter and multi-instrumentalist Alan Davie on a multivalent duo album released on ADMW (Alan Davie Music Workshop). Embracing musique concrète, transmuted folk roots and pure improvisation, its CD reissue in 2003 (on an imprint of the FMP label) drew considerable critical praise.

Where are we now, with the duo session that is The New World? In the brief press release from Discus Music’s indefatigable Martin Archer, we learn that “Oxley concentrates on electronic sounds via his manipulation of close mic’d sound objects, with the acoustic percussion element skilfully provided by Hölker.” You can see an 18-minute YouTube sample of their work together, with background painting images by the German Hölker, in a 2019 performance at the Exploratorium, Berlin. Sitting behind a desk rather than a drum kit, at times Oxley projects electronic sounds redolent of growling arco bass or pianistic filigree.

None such features here, in what is essentially a densely woven yet airy, self-defining abstract soundscape, rich in pointillist texture and abstracted, interlaced pulses but devoid of swing – unless, that is, you filter and transmute the last term through an awareness of the achievements of, say, Sunny Murray, Milford Graves or John Stevens – as well as, of course, Oxley himself. A tough but engrossing listen, this, which may stand as a memorial to the drummer, who died 26 December, aged 83.

Composition 1; Composition 2; Composition 3; Composition 4; Composition 5; Composition 6 (52.50)
Oxley (pc, elec); Stefan Hölker (pc). Viersen, 2022.
Discus 165CD