Tony Oxley

British drummer Tony Oxley (1938), who had pioneered British free-jazz in the trio Joseph Holbrooke, was one of the most influential figures of the 1970s.

His first album as a leader, The Baptised Traveller (january 1969), featured a quintet with guitarist Derek Bailey, saxophonist Evan Parker, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and bassist Jeff Clyne, and contained four lengthy improvisations (notably The Four Compositions for Sextet (february 1970), notably Amass, added trombonist Paul Rutherford. Ichnos (1971) featured Oxley playing solo (the twelve-minute Oryane) as well as with a quartet (the 12-minute Cadilla) and a sextet (the eight-minute Crossing) with the same personnel except for Clyne being replaced by Barry Guy. The evolution of his style (both in terms of its role in improvisation and in terms of expressive range) was documented by pieces such as Never Before or Again (1972), off Tony Oxley, for a sextet (with Guy, Parker, Riley, Rutherford, trumpeter Dave Holdsworth), and Quartet 1, off February Papers (february 1977), with Guy on bass and two violins.

A trio with pianist Howard Riley and bassist Barry Guy produced increasingly adventurous albums: Flight (march 1971), with the 21-minute Motion, Synopsis (october 1973), with the 14-minute Quantum and Oxley toying with amplified percussion, Overground (november 1975), with the 20-minute Overground and Oxley doubling on live electronics.

Tony Oxley (percussion and electronics) and Derek Bailey (guitars) recorded the three lengthy pieces of The Advocate (1975): Sheffield Phantoms (14 minutes), Medicine Men (4 minutes) and Playroom (12:30 minutes). The 2016 reissue includes Oxley’s tribute to Bailey, a live piece for electronics and percussion, The Advocate (2016).

The Celebration Orchestra debuted on Tomorrow is Here (october 1985), split between two lengthy improvisations: Invitation to Karlovyvary and Third Triad. The orchestra consisted of three saxophones (including Gerd Dudek and Larry Stabbins), two violins (including Phil Wachsmann), trombone, piano, cello, three basses (including Guy) and five percussionists (including Oxley).

Oxley’s experiments with electronics ranged from The Glider and the Grinder (april 1987), that featured Wolfgang Fuchs on reeds, Phil Wachsmann on violin and electronics and Hugh Metcalfe on guitar and electronics, to the 16-minute Quartet 1, off The Tony Oxley Quartet (april 1992), with Bailey, Matt Wand on drum machine and Pat Thomas on electronic keyboards, to Floating Phantoms (february 2002) for the B.I.M.P. Quartet (with Wachsmann, Thomas on electronics and Wand on sampling).

Oxley’s collaboration with American pianist Cecil Taylor began with the live duets of Leaf Palm Hand (july 1988) and blossomed with the Feel Trio (himself, Cecil Taylor and American bassist William Parker) that recorded the live Looking (november 1989) and Celebrated Blazons (june 1990).

A new improved Celebration Orchestra (Wachsmann, Thomas, Wand, plus trumpeter Bill Dixon, vocalist Phil Minton, violin, cellos, two saxophones, trombone and three percussionists) recorded the more electronic The Enchanted Messenger (november 1994).

Quartet (september 1993) documents a live performance with guitarist Derek Bailey, pianist Pat Thomas and Matt Wand on samples.

A trio of Cecil Taylor/Bill Dixon/Tony Oxley (may 2002) was documented live on a 42-minute improvisation, B+T+C.

After a ten-year hiatus, Oxley returned with the 50-minute piece of Beaming (november 2019), playing electronics with percussionist Stefan Holker.