THE TONY OXLEY – ALAN DAVIE DUO Alan Davie Music Workshop 005
Tony Oxley / percussion, violin, ring modulator, compressor, octave Splitter, Alan Davie / piano, cello, sopranino saxophone, bass clarinet, vibraphone, xylophone, ring modulator. Recorded: January 16 & September 4, 5, 1974; March 5, 1975.
The Oxley-Davie collaboration spans a range of musical frontiers. It accepts influence freely, yet never succumbs to mere eclecticism. Davie’s playing, especially, illustrates this. There are traces of Cage, Webern, Stockhausen, Evan Parker, and Eric Dolphy – each surfacing at different points, depending largely on what instrument Davie is playing. Yet he always sounds like himself: his reed work is more melodic (and exotic) than Parker’s, more abstract (on bass clarinet) than Dolphy’s; his piano is more outgoing than Cage’s (though the ring modulator helps recall Cage’s “Sonatas”); and his cello is more frenetic (and certainly not serial in concept) than in Webern’s work. Stockhausen is more an overall point of reference, shared in fact between Davie and Oxley, but the pieces here flow more than that.
The compositions themselves are by Qxley and, though they seem fairly much improvised, it is his conceptions that mark the music. As a percussionist, he exhibits a great deal of interest in tempo and timbre, setting these against each other, yet not simply for contrast, but to create a fluid, moving-in-and-out (but forward), layered effect. His use of electronic sounds is a logical extension of this, allowing for longer lines, a wider range of color, and more flexibility. These are mainly textural explorations, then, that work for a time in different areas, employing various combinations of sounds and instruments. As noted, the music draws from a number of sources, some of them contemporary European. From jazz has come a certain urgency, a feeling for the “now” and perhaps, above all, for the primacy of freed intuition. This is probably how “mainstream” modern music should sound: with a sense of its roots (without being stuck there), a hint of the future, a formal contemporaneity, and a lot of solid musicianship. Recommended.
Henry Kuntz, 1976
Tony Oxley biography:
Tony Oxley (born 15 June 1938 in Sheffield, England) is a drummer active in free jazz and free improvisation. Oxley’s playing has been described (in the Penguin Guide to Jazz) as “a unique blend of lumpen momentum and detailed percussive colour”. He often augments the traditional drum kit with nonstandard/homemade percussion and electronics. Oxley, along with drummers such as Han Bennink and John Stevens, was one of the first and most important free-improvising drummers in Europe. He was a member of two key free-improvising ensembles in the 1960s, Joseph Holbrooke (with Derek Bailey and Gavin Bryars) and the Howard Riley Trio (with Barry Guy); he was also a key member of Guy’s London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra in its earlier incarnations. In the 1980s he became a regular partner of the American free pianist Cecil Taylor; Taylor’s group with Oxley and bassist William Parker became known as The Feel Trio, recording albums for Free Music Production and a mammoth 10-CD set, Two T’s For a Lovely T (Codanza). Oxley has also become a regular partner of the trumpeter Bill Dixon, and has worked with Anthony Braxton, Alexander von Schlippenbach and many other free jazz musicians.
Oxley is also an accomplished “straight” jazz drummer. He is still perhaps best known in this capacity for his work on John McLaughlin’s debut album, Extrapolation (1969); he was also briefly a member of the Bill Evans trio, and has also worked extensively with Tomasz Stanko and Paul Bley. His early conventional playing can be heard to good effect on his collaborations with Gordon Beck Experiments with Pops and Gyroscope. He also made a substantial contribution to John Surman’s second album How Many Clouds Can You See?. He was house drummer at Ronnie Scott’s club for some time and can be heard on Ronnie Scott’s live album Ronnie Scott and the Band. He also collaborated briefly with Vangelis in the early 1970s.
Oxley’s first albums as a leader – The Baptised Traveller and Four Compositions for Sextet – were released in the late 1960s on the CBS (Columbia) label, but quickly deleted; they were later reissued on CD but a followup album on RCA Victor, Ichnos, remains an elusive collector’s item. These unfortunate experiences with major labels prompted Oxley to join with Bailey and Evan Parker to create Incus Records, the first musician-owned label in the UK (though Oxley left the label early on). Recent recordings have been for the labels FMP, Sofa, a/l/l and Incus, among others.
selected Tony Oxley recordings:
Alan Davie biography:
Alan Davie (born 1920) is a painter and musician. He was born in Skinflats, Falkirk and studied at Edinburgh College of Art in the late 1930s. An early exhibition of his work came through the Society of Scottish Artists. He also has a great love for Cornwall. Davie travelled widely after the Second World War and has been influenced by abstract expressionist painters of the period, having met Jackson Pollock, as well as by a wide range of cultural symbols. In particular, his painting style owes much to his affinity with Zen. Having read Eugen Herrigel’s book Zen in the Art of Archery (1953) he has assimilated the spontaneity which Zen emphasises. Declaring that the spiritual path is incompatible with planning ahead, he has attempted to paint as automatically as possible, which is intended to bring forth elements of his unconscious. In this, he shares a vision with surrealist painters such as Miro, and he has also been fascinated by the work of seminal psychoanalyst Carl Jung.
Like Pollock, many of Davie’s works have been executed by standing above the painting, which is laid on the ground. He adds layers of paint until sometimes the original painting has been covered over many times. However, despite the speed at which he works (he has usually had several paintings on the go at once), he is adamant that his images are not pure abstraction, but all have significance as symbols. Championing the primitive, he sees the role of the artist as akin to that of the shaman, and has remarked upon how disparate cultures have adopted common symbols in their visual languages.
As well as painting, whether on canvas or paper (he has stated that he prefers to work on paper), Davie has recently produced several screenprints. Musically, Davie plays piano, cello and bass clarinet. He has been particularly associated with the percussionist Tony Oxley. His paintings have also inspired music by others, notably the bassist and composer Barry Guy.