Tony Oxley
Unreleased 1974-2016
Discus 129CD
Available formats: CD/DL


“Overall, this is a tremendously important historical material, which opens yet another window into the musical legacy of one of the most important British / European Improvising Music personas, which are both delightful and enlightening. An absolute must for Improvising Music followers!”– Adam Baruch, JAZZ IN BRITAIN


Available for the first time on CD, this is another collection of essential pieces from one of the originators and masters of this style. These recordings were selected from the personal collection of Tony Oxley and were mastered for this release with superb sound by Karsten Lehl under Tony’s supervision. Some of the pieces were edited into their final composed form many years after the original recording was made. Performed by a who’s who of European improvised music, this new release is an essential addition to Tony’s recorded legacy.

Tony Oxley – drums, percussion, electronics with

Tracks 1 – 3
Barry Guy – double bass
Dave Holdsworth – trumpet
Howard Riley – piano
Paul Rutherford – trombone

Track 4
Howard Riley – piano
Larry Stabbins – saxophones
Phil Wachsmann – violin
Hugh Metcalfe – guitar

Track 5

Stefan Hoelker – percussion

29CD - Inclusion Principle
99CD - Tony Oxley
Tony Oxley
February Papers
165CD cover 500x500
Tony Oxley
The New World


The album is a spectacular showcase of British / European Improvised Music at its best and has very limited to what most people consider as Jazz, sonically exploring interstellar space rather that our humble earthy neighborhood, but obviously preserving the improvising spirit and using sound as a metaphysical medium to express emotion and artistic expression. The three early tracks form 1974 are perhaps the most remarkable, considering the date of recording, which proves that Oxley already at that time was light-years ahead of most the other musical explorers at the time. The absolute freedom from any references and restrictions characterizes these recordings as completely pioneering at the time, and honestly standing up to anything created in Improvised Music ever since. Kudos to Oxley for releasing these recordings from his personal vaults and to Martin Archer for releasing them faithfully on his Discus label, making them available to the world. You make us all spiritually richer being able to listen to this music. Overall, this is a tremendously important historical material, which opens yet another window into the musical legacy of one of the most important British / European Improvising Music personas, which are both delightful and enlightening. An absolute must for Improvising Music followers! – Adam Baruch, JAZZ IN BRITAIN

Tony Oxley was in on the first stirrings of English free improvisation. But compared to Derek Bailey and Evan Parker, with whom he co-founded Incus Records, the percussionist has not been very aggressively documented. Discus Music is one of the labels that has stepped forward in recent years to provide a fuller picture of his music……Three of its five tracks were originally performed in 1974 by a quintet…..Another lengthy piece is from 1981, and the final track features percussionist Stefan Hoelker. On all of them, Oxley plays drums, percussion and electronics.. He also edited the 1974 music into its final form. Oxley’s interfventions are rarely obvious, although the fanfare which ends “Ensemble 1” does seem to come out of nowhere. The early quintet’s performances are taught and decisive, constructed from accumulations of brief, assertive gestures from the string and brass, and emphatic bursts of texture from the piano and drums. The music seethes with motion, drawing the listener from one fully formed moment to the next. Two more recent pieces develop in a more organic fashion. “Frame (1981)” begins with quick, cutting string sounds, which build to a dense frenzy, and then cut out to make space for Stabbins’s coarse cries. The next section is a sort of concerto for saxophone and explosions obtained from plucked strings, bashed metal and roughly handled piano guts, which then morphs into a furious whirlwind. Once more, the music conveys a sense of ceaseless movement. “Combination (2016)”, the disc’s only music to originate in this century, is much more fitful, with near silent pauses punctuating the surges of metal and prickly, shortwave graininess. – Bill Meyer, THE WIRE

These days it’s not that often we get reminders about just what an inventive musician Tony Oxley was, is and ever-will-be; a percussionist who constantly curves a sense of sound sculpture out of metal and skin that entices the ears into double-taking hearing’s expectations. I’ve seen/heard Mr Oxley many times; the stay-with-me memory of The Ox plunging Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor and William Parker into a deep pool of possibilities at the South Bank as they all carve sky from the interior of the concert hall, well it stays with you. I’ve looked at that old Hayman drum-kit with its assortment of collected extras – giant bell-cymbals, woodblocks, Persian stud drums, unscrapped metal – and tried to link the light intense clatter of batterie to what my eyes are witnessing. Tony Oxley never was like the others. What these 48 minutes provide is a pin-your-ears-back encounter with a texture of soundings that, though factually ‘coming from musicians’, in essence are driven from decisions that are purely about grinding sound/noise/echo/silence into something akin to the pigments of colouring (Tony Oxley is a fascinating visual artist as well as percussionist.) Although the 48 minutes on this Discus album are split over a time-line between 1974 and 2016, that’s not how I hear it. I’ve been giving this CD an hour of each day for the last week and, for me, it hangs complete to itself. The fact that it starts with collaborators like Barry Guy and Paul Rutherford, moves into a line-up with Larry Stabbins, Phil Wachmann and others, finally to emerge into a twelve minute prologue with percussionist Stefan Hoelker and T.O. solely supplying electronics, is fact, but in terms of intention, detail and sheer sonic vitality, these three sessions come together as a whole sound chasm to climb into irrespective of when or with whom they emerged. Essential music, yes contradict myself, essential music, take an hour or two or three to confirm it. – Steve Day, April 2022

Little needs to be said of the percussionist Tony Oxley’s credentials as a figurehead of improvised music – either through his pioneering mid-1960s work with Gavin Bryars and Derek Bailey in the Joseph Holbrooke Trio, or later trans-Atlantic liaisons with Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton. These previously unheard snippets from his own archive underscore his passionate, unswerving commitment to non-idiomatic sound creation. The first tranche (recorded in 1974 but edited into their final forms between 2005 and 2020) feature what looks like a conventional quintet with drums, bass, trumpet, piano and trombone, but deal in dense abstractions augmented with tactile electronic treatments. Anyone who has seen Oxley perform live will also recognise the cavernous clangs and scrapes of the enormous cowbells and gongs with which he famously pimped his drumkit. The second session, also from 1974, is an intense 14-minute piece, again for quintet, this time showcasing the shrill shrieks and tart scrabblings of Phil Wachmann’s violins and Larry Stabbins’ juddering sax honks. A much later session from 2016, has Oxley concentrating on electronics while Stefan Hoelker adds acoustic percussion, the duo conjouring ghostly emanations and diffuse soundscapes. It’s a pretty convincing survey of a life devoted to serious investigation. – Daniel Spicer, Jazzwise

This is an ear-opening album from British percussionist Tony Oxley (who turns 84 this month). He is one of the great improvising drummers, with a unique sound palette and way of thinking built on patience to leave space for his own listening and quickness to fill the right moment. There is a clattering quality to his playing that is unmistakable and sounds like what Kenny Clarke may have played like if he came up with Cecil Taylor. One hears that here on occasional plangent whomps of sound, but the pieces—selected from his personal archives—are examples of his organizational thinking for ensemble. Call it composing if you want, but neither without knowledge of the preparation that went into these original recordings nor the editing—sometimes decades after the fact—that was a part of producing the album, one hears this as Oxley organizing and influencing the other musicians. Influence is not just compositional, guiding traffic, but using electronics to process the sounds. On the final track, 2016’s “Combination”, that is all Oxley does; it is a duet with Stefan Hoelker playing acoustic percussion. Larger ensemble pieces, like “The Embrace” and the two parts of “The Ensemble” (both from 1974), are not far from Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. Oxley’s sound is spikier, with musicians like trumpeter Dave Holdsworth, trombonist Paul Rutherford and pianist Howard Riley. The electronics are just one more instrument or embellishment, a crunch-like sound as percussion, an extended timbre on Barry Guy’s bass. This is music that is very much in the moment, with no long-term and little short-term memory, free music not trying to build a larger form or any kind of dramatic direction, instead forgetting about anything that had come before and remaking itself every instant. That makes it sound far less like anything in the broad category of free jazz than high-modernist classical music, something from Vladimir Ussachevsky, Karlheinz Stockhausen or Mario Davidovsky. It is a powerfully satisfying thing to hear improvised music that sounds like it connects to such a larger and older context. – George Grella, New York City Jazz Record

Free-improv label Discus Music have pulled off quite a coup with the release of hitherto unheard and fascinating Tony Oxley recordings here. Oxley, now in his 80s, is long regarded as one of the UK’s greatest jazz drummers and this collection from his own collection of recordings spans decades and offers some wonderful moments of free improvisation. Trumpeter Dave Holdsworth makes a sterling contribution among the players, his style reminiscent of Tomasz Stanko who Oxley worked with on some key recordings in the 1990s. The Discus release also features Howard Riley and Paul Rutherford among the personnel and the open style gives plenty of room to all the players aided and abetted by Oxley’s tasteful use of electronics. – Marlbank –

I’ve long dug the playing & composing & directing of British jazz drum pioneer Tony Oxley. Starting with his work on John McLaughlin’s debut, ‘Extrapolation’ (1968), the Howard Riley Trio and his own quintet (two brilliant records on Columbia UK in 1970/1971), through his work with Derek Bailey and Cecil Taylor, he has remained at the cutting edge of avant jazz drumming, experimental percussion & electronics. As far as being a leader, his recordings are few & far between. Recently the Confront and Discus labels have released several historic dates of unreleased treasures. This disc consists of three dates, two from 1974 (both different quintets) and a duo set from 2016. Starting off with three pieces by the first quintet: Oxley, Guy, Holdsworth, Riley & Wachsmann. If you’ve listened to enough of older style British improv, you know that the Brits have their own way of playing ‘Free Music’, also known as ‘insect music’. Quintet 1 features inside-the piano explorations, eerie electronics, that distinctive drums &/or percussion sound and the unique sound of brass that was invented by the likes of Paul Rutherford, Radu Malfatti or the Bauer Brothers. There is a certain brass sound which sounds as if the notes are being played backwards (via tapes), which can be heard on the short tracks on Hugh Hopper’s ‘1984’ album. Those sounds are especially effective and hypnotic with both Mr. Rutherford (trombone) and Mr. Holdsworth (on trumpet), providing those sounds. Quintet 2 features: Oxley, Metcalfe, Riley, Stabbins & Wachsmann. Violinist Phil Wachsmann is a longtime sonic explorer of what some listeners call “insect music”, referring to those short, bent-note interactions that UK improvisers seem to favor. Wachmann’s playing is at the center of “Frame”, an extraordinary 15 minute epic of cosmic, improv weirdness which features some intense playing from Weekend saxist Larry Stabbins. The final piece, “Combination”, is a duo of Mr. Oxley on electronics and Stefan Hoelker on acoustic percussion. Mr. Hoelker is the only musician here with whom I had heard little about although he has worked with Mr. Oxley previously for an orchestra album. Mr. Oxley has been working with electronics and amplified percussion for many years, going back to 1971. Both Mr. Oxley and Mr. Hoelker are sonic pioneers and it is hard to tell them apart at times except for the occasional recognizable sounds of cymbals. Although this piece was recorded more than forty years after the previous piece, Mr. Oxley’s distinctive sound and approach is similar, evolving on certain levels. It is Tony Oxley’s sound which is at the center of each of these pieces, all of which are captivating to the serious listeners amongst us. – Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG NYC

Discus Music have tapped into a rich vein of music by Tony Oxley, previously releasing a couple of 2002 duets with Cecil Taylor from the Sheffield drummer’s personal archive and re-releasing an Incus Records release from 1977. With Unreleased (1974-2016), Martin Archer delves deep into that archive once again to reveal five pieces which highlight exactly why Oxley has remained such a significant figure in the development of free music in the UK. What these pieces really draw attention to is Oxley’s masterful use of electronics in the sculpting of his work. You could be forgiven for mistaking the second piece for a Stockhausen composition, such is its poise and rigour. It’s an outstanding execution of improvised music at its finest, seriously treading on the toes of electroacoustic composition to create an alluring and otherworldly atmosphere. Ensemble 1 is one of three pieces played by a quintet comprised of Oxley on drums, electronics and ‘sounds’ alongside bassist Barry Guy, Huddersfield’s own Howard Riley on piano and the trombone and trumpet of Paul Rutherford and Dave Holdsworth. Another quintet, also recorded in 1974, follows up with Frame. Oxley and Riley are joined by guitarist Hugh Metcalfe, Larry Stabbins on sax and Philip Wachsmann adding more electronic events and violin to the mix. There’s so much going on here, but without frenzy. Instead disciplined decision making and deep listening between the participants creates music full of incident and colour. A much later duo with percussionist Stefan Hoeckler, who is new to me, completes the cascade of ideas. Seriously, these five previously unreleased pieces are a yardstick of well executed and entertaining improvisation. I get the idea there’s yet more to come and I’m excited. – Graeme Murrell, Bestalbumyesterday blog.

Nonostante sia uscita già diverso tempo fa questa raccolta merita di essere conosciuta dai più perchè sprigiona in un breve lasso di tempo (tre composizioni non particolarmente estese) con fare decisamente chiaro il pensiero free secondo il percussionista Tony Oxley, storico improvvisatore della scena inglese, che molti ricorderanno per essere stato tra i fondatori della etichetta Incus e per aver collezionato collaborazioni con mostri sacri dell’avant, quali Derek Bailey, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, e altri ancora. I frammenti, tutti inediti, che vanno a comporre “Unreleased” provengono in toto dall’archivio personale del batterista, incorporando tracce prodotte dal 1974 al 2016: tre formazioni differenti, due quintetti e un duo che attraverso movenze quasi filosofiche tessono il pensiero radicale di Oxley, fatto di armonie non convenzionali, architettate da un set percussivo che diventa tutto un corpo con metalli, campanacci e devices elettronici. Si parte con The Embrace, Ensemble 1 e 2, dove spiccano il trombone di Paul Rutherford e il basso di Barry Guy; qui i dialoghi free si attestano su scambi piuttosto istintivi che vanno gradualmente a crescere di materia e volume. Diverso è il discorso per Frame, in cui la presenza dissonante di una coppia di violini amalgamati all’elettronica rende all’orecchio una vasta gamma di timbriche minime che conducono gradualmente alla classica esplosione finale. Più mansueti e riflessivi i dialoghi tra percussioni ed elettronica di Combination, la quale sembra non seguire un filo logico, suonando come un insieme di prove estemporanee dal timbro radente, silente, il cui interesse è sicuramente minore rispetto alle composizioni precedenti. Ascolto consigliato sia ai più esperti ma diretto in particolare a chi volesse conoscere per la prima volta i mille volti e le mille astrazioni di casa Oxley. – Sergio Eletto, KATHODIK

It is often forgotten that Tony Oxley was once the house drummer at Ronnie Scott’s, backing a whole host of distinguished American visitors, before branching out into the limitless expanses of free improvisation, a world where he formed associations with the likes of Cecil Taylor. His commitment to the sharper end of the music should always be admired, if not necessarily appreciated by many. The kind of presentations we are faced with here are typical of so much of his output from the 1970s onwards, abandoning accepted form and structure, asking questions of the listener and taking no prisoners in the process. This is his music – take it or leave it. These recordings were taken from Tony’s personal collection. The first three tracks were edited many years after the event, leading to their release this year. The emphasis is not on the leader’s skills as a drummer; rather the music illustrates how important the collective effort has been in so much of his creative work. All the compositions are Oxley originals but given the nature of the performances the formality of conventional writing is not in evidence. There is, however, an element of control on the 1974 recordings despite the emphasis being on extreme sounds from the horns. Riley explores both the inside and outside of the piano and there are a number of effects from the leader’s electronics. Frame (recorded in 1981, not 1974 as listed on the sleeve) is more cacophonous. Duelling violins in the higher register open a piece that’s close to 15 minutes long and also features the bleating, imploring tenor and soprano of Larry Stabbins. Combination, the following item, is a contrasting duet, punctuated by silences, with the percussion duties left to Hoelker as the leader concentrates on things electric. – Peter Gamble. JAZZ JOURNAL

These previously unreleased tracks by veteran British drummer Tony Oxley contain sounds that not only expands improvised music history, but also reveal early adaptations of today’s electro-acoustic interactions. Newly edited and mastered, the tracks from 1974 and 1981 finds Oxley using percussion crashes and sweeps to cinch the rhythm at the same time as his processed pings, cackles and buzzes add a contrasting dimension to the other instrumentalists’ work. Considering that those challenged extensions include the output of other master improvisers such as trombonist Paul Rutherford’s lowing snarls, trumpeter Dave Holdsworth’s portamento flutters and pianist Howard Riley’s rambles and sweeps, is it surprising that a two-part ensemble piece ends with a literal waving fanfare? More dazzling through is “Frame” from a few years later with a different band. Here the electronics’ irregular jiggling timbres and equivalent live drum processing easily make common cause with the spectacular spiccato jumps and sprawling glissandi from violinist Phil Wachsmann. Dominant, while accompanied by Larry Stabbins’ rugged sax smears and Riley’s pounding piano rumbles, the fiddle-drums intersection projects commanding irregular textures at supersonic speeds, but not without revealing an ever widening spectrum of sonic colors. Remastered with full-spectrum, 21st Century sound, these heirlooms of an earlier era easily justify their unearthing and prominent display. – Ken Waxman, Jazzword Magazine

Despite having already been released some time ago, this collection deserves to be known by most because it releases in a short period of time (three not particularly extensive compositions) with decidedly clear free thinking according to the percussionist Tony Oxley, historic improviser of the English scene, who many will remember for being one of the founders of the Incus label and for having collected collaborations with sacred avant monsters, such as Derek Bailey, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, and others. The fragments, all unreleased, that make up “Unreleased” come entirely from the drummer’s personal archive, incorporating tracks produced from 1974 to 2016: three different formations, two quintets and a duo that through almost philosophical movements weave the radical thought of Oxley, made of unconventional harmonies, concocted by a percussive set that becomes a whole body with metals, cowbells and electronic devices. He starts with The Embrace , Ensemble 1 and 2 , where Paul Rutheford’s trombone and Barry Guy’s bass stand out; here the free dialogues settle on rather instinctive exchanges that gradually grow in matter and volume. The situation is different for Frame, in which the dissonant presence of a pair of violins amalgamated with electronics renders to the ear a vast range of minimal timbres which gradually lead to the classic final explosion. The dialogues between percussions and electronics in Combination are more tame and reflective , which does not seem to follow a logical thread, sounding like a set of impromptu rehearsals with a grazing, silent timbre, whose interest is certainly less than the previous compositions. Recommended listening for both the more experienced but directed in particular to those who want to get to know the thousand faces and thousand abstractions of the Oxley house for the first time. – KATHODIK

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