Tony Oxley
The New World
Discus 165CD
Available formats: CD/DL


“From the point of view of this music, listening to The New World is as essential as Paul Rutherford’s The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoise, Derek Bailey’s Lot 74 Improvisations or Was It Me? by the duo of Paul Lovens and Paul Lytton.” – Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg. ORNYX

“A densely woven yet airy, self-defining abstract soundscape, rich in pointillist texture and abstracted, interlaced pulses.” – Michael Tucker, JAZZ JOURNAL

“This music seems to breathe and evolve in an organic, logical way. It reminds me of some spirits or ghosts which have been set free of the usual barriers, growing and slowly evolving into something else.” – Bruce Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery NYC


Tony Oxley – percussion and electronics
Stefan Holker – acoustic percussion

New music – recorded 2022. Oxley needs no introduction as one of the inventors of this style of playing. He remains active in music some 60 years after he burst onto the scene as one of the finest percussionists the UK has ever produced. For his current music he concentrates on electronic sounds via his manipulation of close mic’d sound objects, with the acoustic percussion element skilfully provided by Holker. A dense weave of detail and texture and a vital new entry point into Oxley’s continuing body of work.

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Tony Oxley
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Tony Oxley
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Recent recording by Tony Oxley focused on (micro) percussion and its live electronics, in line with the few amplified percussion tracks modified by electronics (ring modulator at the time) released by the Incus label in the 70s (Incus 8, Tony Oxley and Incus 18 February Papers). But there is no revival on the part of the percussionist: even if we immediately recognize his “improvised” style with these multiple small sounds that bounce off his various utensils and get lost in a fascinating variety of strikes and timbres, Tony Oxley has evolved his use of electronics. In addition, the participation of percussionist Stefan Hölker is organically integrated into the instrumental flow, their individual playing and their respective sonorities are so entangled and integrated into their collective music that audibly one does not feel that it is a duet or a “dialogue” between the two “drummers”. Nothing but a deep connivance: it is impossible to perceive who is playing what. But a dialogue emerges between the acoustic sounds of the two percussionists and the electronic sounds that echo it, like a volatile counterpoint. The electronic side of this music is based on the immediate sonic transformation of certain selected sounds, often metallic, which escape, oscillate or roar in the middle of the pointillist strikes and resonances of small cymbals, woodblocks or its large trapezoidal bell welded at least half a century ago. I would like to draw attention to the fact that Oxley stated that he was inspired by Derek Bailey’s volume pedal amplification techniques. Tony Oxley made a name for himself as a “free-jazz” drummer (but not only) with Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon and Alan Skidmore and as a collaborator of Derek Bailey in his last “noise” period. It would therefore be interesting if the public who appreciate him for these reasons could discover his inventions as they are delivered to us here in 2022. Here we are at the heart of “historic” free improvisation that is still relevant today. Absolutely remarkable. Tony Oxley has been little documented about his free-improvisation side for decades. From the point of view of this music, listening to The New World is as essential as Paul Rutherford’s The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoise, Derek Bailey’s Lot 74 Improvisations or Was It Me? by the duo of Paul Lovens and Paul Lytton. – Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg

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. – Michael Tucker, JAZZ JOURNAL

British percussionist Tony Oxley has long been one of the best avant/jazz drummers to emerge from England in the late 1960’s. Since the early 1970’s, Mr. Oxley has also been playing and inventing his own percussion instruments as well as playing electronics. The last time I caught Mr. Oxley, he was playing in concert with Cecil Taylor (a few years back) and playing a sampler of his recorded percussion instead of his drum set-up. Mr. Oxley has been working with German percussionist Stefan Hölker for a while, being a member of Oxley’s Celebration Orchestra (Soulnote CD in 1995) and both percussionists have a duo CD on Confront from 2020. This disc was recorded in Viersen, Germany last year (2022). Each piece here is called “Composition” numbers 1-6. The overall sound on “Composition 1” is swirling percussion (mostly drums & cymbals) with subtle electronics also interwoven together. The blend of acoustic and electronic sounds is a seamless stream which evokes a series of images which blur the lines between acoustic and electronic phenomena. The cymbal work and electronics are very similar in sound or texture so that it is hard to tell which is which at times. Ever since being a Mothers of Invention fanatic in the late sixties and checking out Varese’s “Ionization”, I’ve been a longtime fan of percussion music and hence, I find the music here to be consistently fascinating and pretty diverse. Each piece seems to evoke a different vibe or inner landscape (for the mind). The more I listen to supposedly “free” music, the more I hear direction, intent or purpose within what seems to be free. This music seems to breathe and evolve in an organic, logical way. “Composition 4” is the longest piece and the most dense and imaginative. It reminds me of some spirits or ghosts which have been set free of the usual barriers, growing and slowly evolving into something else. The sounds here are often pulsating and sounds alive. The more I listen to this, the more I hear the way it is connected and how it unfolds. Is it composition or improvisation or both? Questions to consider as we listen. – Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery, NYC

Stefan Hölker, who has already herded goats with Andy Lumpp, was already at TONY OXLEY’s side with acoustic percussion in 2019 on “Beaming” and again in 2022 on The New World (Discus 165CD). The Sheffield-born veteran concentrates on electro-percussive manipulations of tachistically hailing, flickering, scraping sounds, with the ear of an abstract expressionist painter who, even at the age of 84, is still fascinated by the kinetics of metalloid timbres and the playfully rattling, stomping, tobogganing nuances through small gestures. – Rigobert Dittmann, BAD ALCHEMY

One of the true pioneers of free improvisation, British percussionist Tony Oxley has never allowed himself to be limited by the tools of his trade. In 2016, during a celebration of pianist Cecil Taylor in New York, illness made the physical exertion of his old approach difficult, so he turned to electronics. It’s a path he continued down in the year since, and on this new recording he’s developed a method for creating sound with close-miked metallic objects. He recorded The New World in Viersen, Germany in 2022 with percussionist Stefan Hiilker, clearly an adherent of Oxley’s radical methods, who complements the elusive, sometimes liquid flurries offrictive sound and clatter with his own rustling noises. I’m assuming it’s HoIker who used a drum as a sound platform, whether rubbing brushes or sticks across the skin’s surface. Ultimately, it’s not only hard to tell but irrelevant to what the pair have in mind. Oxley casts a swirling, viscous sound that morphs, transmutes and seethes, gently, as metallic pings complement and dissolve into fractalised whooshes and gurgling smears. Sometimes the timbre suggests a kind of digital decay, as if the details of real-time sound production are deliberately flattened and compressed as with an MP3 file.Across six pieces Oxley and Hiilker collide striated, machine-like ambience with delicate, complementary hand-driven patter, with each half of the equation interacting naturally, as if one was emerging from the other, without a dash of illusion-busting latency. Their rapport and Oxley’s fine-tuned commitment to such a specific palette is impressive, but over the course of 53 minutes a desire for greater dynamism emerges, either in terms of more intensity, a greater perception of pulse, or some additional colour. There is still a lot going on here, but I think a more generous engineering job would’ve worked wonders. – Peter Margasak, WIRE

Six Oxley compositions of tightly ringing, energetic activity. – Squidco

Percussion duets between Tony Oxley and Stefan Holker – with electronics by the latter – all served up at a level that reminds us why Oxley has been such an important improvising talent on the drums over the course of his many decades in music! As with the best improvisers, Tony is able to shift into a mode that’s very resonant with his partner on a date – which in this case means work on drums that’s often more spacious and textural than some of his other recordings – very aware of all the sonic possibilities of his instrument, and served up in ways that are often far from conventional sounds and rhythm! The CD features six improvisations, of varying lengths – but with a nicely unified vibe. – Dusty Groove

A drummer’s drummer, composer, and electronic musician in jazz circles, Tony Oxley has been playing with the best of Britain’s jazz players longer than most of us have been alive. He played with John McLaughlin, Tomasz Stanko, Cecil Taylor, John Surman, Amthony Braxton, Georgie Fame, Michael Gibbs, Don Sugarcane Harris, Paul Bley, Bill Dixon, and many many more; in fact a better question might be: Who hasn’t Tony Oxley played with? The answer might be a shorter list. Born in June 1938, the sad news is that Oxley passed away on December 26th, 2023 at the age of 85, so the review of this excellent album will be somewhat overshadowed by his untimely passing. The New World contains six of Oxley’s percussion compositions, untitled save the numbers one through six, explorative pieces that offer a glimpse into what magic can be spun using percussion alone. For his part as a player, Oxley handles percussion and electronics, while Stefan Hölker handles acoustic percussion. The sessions took place in 2022 in Viersen, Germany, engineered by Karsten Lehl and Bernd Ludger Wagner. The opener, “Composition 1,” sets the stage for all of the pieces that follow, a beautiful scenic journey accompanied by mysterious sounds, occasional light drum hits, rapid swells of cymbals and gongs, bowed bits and clicks that remain ever interesting but always gentle so as not to disturb the listener’s peace. Oxley’s masterful refinement of sounds and shadows amid swirling bursts of creative energy offer a unique perspective; these are not merely ‘drum solos’ or even enhanced solos, but compositions that deserve the most unique attention to every detail. As the listener gets lost inside one piece, the next one eases forward almost without notice, before one even realizes it you are on that sprawling twelve-minute panorama that is “Composition 6.” With The New World, Oxley produced some engaging sound sculptures that are at once satisfying and magically haunting on a number of levels. – Peter Thelen, EXPOSE

Percussion duets between Tony Oxley and Stefan Holker – with electronics by the former and percussion by the latter – all served up at a level that reminds us why Oxley has been such an important improvising talent on the drums over the course of his many decades in music! As with the best improvisers, Tony is able to shift into a mode that’s very resonant with his partner on a date – which in this case means work that’s often more spacious and textural than some of his other recordings – very aware of all the sonic possibilities of his instrument, and served up in ways that are often far from conventional sounds and rhythm! The CD features six improvisations, of varying lengths – but with a nicely unified vibe. – © 1996-2024, Dusty Groove, Inc, Chicago

No sooner had we published our Jazz Farewells compilation for 2023 than news reached us that another legend had parted. Tony Oxley, the free improvising drummer who made for a vital foil alongside such names as John McLaughlin and Derek Bailey, passed away recently at Christmas. Whilst at first glance his final album possesses a sharp and jagged exterior, given half a chance, it ultimately reveals a soft underbelly. This album, with its expansive title and cover artwork provided by Oxley himself, reminds us of that same character of a man known for his everlasting commitment to reinvention. – Barney Whittaker PRESTO MUSIC

Considered an ingenious creator, Tony Oxley has always been one step ahead of his peers. His artistic vision combined with immense instrumental mastery makes him a key musician in the history of improvised music. Its predisposition to generate the breakdown of rhythmic and harmonic structures was evident from the beginning of the sixties. At the same time, his perfect knowledge of jazz led him to accompany Bill Evans and Sonny Rollins while he was the official drummer at Ronnie Scott’s in London. His imaginative drumming illuminates John McLaughlin’s album, Extrapolation . Unlike McLaughlin and Dave Holland who did not resist the call of Miles Davis, he did not join the United States: his predilection for free music and the concepts of Derek Bailey prevailed. Eager for new sensations, he settled in Australia then in Germany and invited East German musicians to join him in his Celebration Orchestra. The bagpipe ensemble of the Glasgow Skye Pipe Band joined this orchestra during the Grenoble Jazz Festival in the early 90s, which testifies to the pluralism of this drummer. This album entitled The New World , whose title echoes Tomorrow is Here recorded in 1985, goes beyond all the underground experiences Tony Oxley has immersed himself in since he revisited African-American avant-gardism alongside Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton and Bill Dixon. The superpositions of sound masses and the electro-acoustic hybridization compose a universe similar to action painting . Like his fellow drummers Han Bennink and Daniel Humair, in fact, Oxley paints: he transfigures an abstract universe imbued with shamanism. The dialectic developed in these six compositions refers to his paintings. Stefan Hölker , a long-time member of the Celebration Orchestra which included five drummers, is Tony Oxley’s musical partner. He focuses on acoustic percussion, the substances of which he shapes. Tony Oxley’s drum set, which mixes an array of Ellingtonian woodblocks , bells of various sizes and oriental elements, has long incorporated electronic amplification to complement the rhythms. Here, the experimental approach embraces the intensity of improvisations, cataclysms follow silky textures. Music is constructed by innumerable tangled networks which integrate hatchings; the result thus avoids any automatic approach.
This duo aims to conquer a transgressive freedom. The New World is exciting and foreshadows new musical patterns. The portrait of Tony Oxley which appears inside the record cover is due to Tutta Oxley : the musician seems to free himself from framing, like his futuristic music. – Citizen Jazz

The New World, has turned out, sadly, to be the last album made by jazz and free improvisation percussionist Tony Oxley, who died over Christmas. Like his previous album, Beaming (2019), it’s a collaboration between himself and fellow percussionist Stefan Hölker. The two had worked together going right back to the 1990s, Hölker being one of the four drummers in Oxley’s Celebration Orchestra. Beaming was a series of elaborations on archive recordings made by Oxley in the 1970s. On it, Hölker played acoustic percussion while Oxley contributed electronics. The New World involves them working together in a similar way, but without archive material, Oxley again contributing electronics and incorporating sounds from close-mic’d found objects. However, in no way is it merely a rehash of the earlier album and fans of free improvisation will enjoy both. The album was recorded in 2022.

The title is playfully enigmatic. It could be seen as an ironic political comment on the state of things, or as describing a new way of doing things, a spontaneous, constructive musical dialogue that could serve, maybe, as a model for social change. It could be taken to have a hauntological ring to it: one could imagine it being the title of a BBC TV documentary; the year, perhaps, is 1970. Being easily impressed by transistorised devices back then, we watch, in awe, as James Burke interviews Oxley about the electronic gizmos he’s incorporated into his kit. Blue Peter for grown-ups. It could also be seen as referring generally to the world of improvised music, or, specifically, to the sound-world Oxley and Hölker create. One might even think of it as referring to the new ways of seeing (or, rather, hearing) invoked by Oxley’s found objects. If we take it to refer to the sound-world, it’s interesting to speculate when that world came into being. Listening to the album, I was more than once reminded of the classical music avant-garde of the 1960s. That a sound-world created sixty years ago still sounds new today – and it does – says a lot. Much of that music was tightly-structured and one of the great insights that has come from the rise of improvised music as a genre is that the ‘new world’ of sound created back then doesn’t need the formal rigour that classical composers often felt a need to give it. Musicians from both jazz and classical backgrounds quickly discovered you didn’t need a blackboard or a slide-rule to create to it. All you needed to do, once you had embraced the mindset and acquired the skills needed to do what you wanted to do, was pick up your instrument and play. And there was always the implication that what you could do in the world of music, you could do in the world at large. As Sun Ra put it, ‘There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of).

The New World lasts just over fifty minutes and comprises of six tracks entitled ‘Composition’, numbered 1 to 6. In the first, dry, busy percussive activity interacts with what could be sounds produced by bowed metal or the results of ring modulation. Both musicians carefully restrict the vocabulary of sounds they permit themselves to use. This vocabulary is gradually enriched over the course of the album, but there is, throughout, a sense of almost classical restraint. On a micro-level, the music is inventive and endlessly engaging. I was put in mind of two people conducting a subdued but rich and enthusiastic conversation in the corner of a room, not quite out of earshot.

And what a conversation it is. Although there are six tracks, you have a sense that, when one comes to an end and another starts, it’s because you had to leave the room temporarily, not because the music ever stopped. You get the feeling Oxley and Hölker could’ve gone on for ever and never run out of things to say. – Dominic Rivron, INTERNATIONAL TIMES

Appearing late last year The New World was the final album from Sheffield-born composer/ percussionist Tony Oxley- who had a distinctively busy & dense take on the free-improv form. He’d been active since the early 1970s, and over his career worked with the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Cecil Taylor, & Evan Parker. He sadly passed away at the age of eighty-five on Boxing Day 2023. This six-track album is a collaboration between Mr Oxley- percussion & electronics, and Stefan Hölker- acoustic percussion. Been recorded in Viersen Germany in 2022. The release is available as either a CD or digital release from UK’s Discus Music.The tracks are simply listed as Compositions One to Six- each running between five and fourteen minutes. The sound throughout is very shifting and abstract in its attack- as we find a busy blend of detailed percussive darts, rattles & slices. Blended with fiddles, creaks, and tolls.At points, the compositions sit on the edge of improv noise- but never fully falling over into it. As there is meaning & shape present throughout, it’s just in such an abstract & at points manically surreal manner- with each track alive with reward tones & textures. I’m not sure if you can break The New World into track-by-track reviewing- as each is so busy & shifting in its attack. But by saying that I certainly wouldn’t say that the tracks are interchangeable/ similar, as both parties are putting their all into the improv & joy of darting/ varied sound craft.
The New World is a fitting final release from this respected improviser- with the album severing up an engaging & brain-scrabbling journey into free improv form. – Roger Batty MUSIQUEMASCHINE

Awareness of the mortal passing of British master percussionist Tony Oxley reached Disaster Amnesiac late last month, fully one month after he’d transitioned to whichever incarnation or non-incarnation his spirit would attain. I’d actually just ordered a copy of his record from last year, The New World, when I found out. Recorded in 2022 with percussionist Stefan Holker, it’s a slow and steady burn over six pieces that all run together for a little bit over an hour’s worth of subtle musical dialogue. It’s no drum battle recording from Tony and Stefan. Instead, they dialogue with their drum kits (no photos of them on the cover, sadly), creating spaces that are filled with the more gestural techniques famously pioneered by the former and quite obviously well-studied by the latter. It’s no hyperbole to say that Tony Oxley had a direct hand in inventing this type of drum set aesthetic. On this, what I’m assuming was one of his last sessions, he evinces said mastery for anyone with ear to hear it. Oxley’s sound always struck this listener as having a deep visual appeal, in that it was easy to imagine structures such as abandoned factories or trellises, those sorts of things, as I listened. Across The New World’s duration, Tony goes to those types of places again and again, abetted by his spare, simplified electronics sounds and Stefan’s obvious simpatico. This duo lights a low key flame and kindles it as they move from zone to percussive zone, not in lock step but sounding out a deeper entrainment, one of zones and even regions, pulled from drums and cymbals an all of their varied contours. The New World feels like a reverent send off for a highly important improvisor. Check in on it, and let’s hope that Tony Oxley’s new world, whatever that may entail, is treating his spirit well. – Mark Pino On Drums,

Listening to the six tracks on Tony Oxley’s The New World, each simply titled as a numbered composition, could be compared to a visit to a Percussion Curiosity Shop. Low clattering sounds float in, only to disappear quickly. Bowed cymbals, or something very similar, come out of the corner, together with wood block hits. A creak could be something Oxley produced, or it could be a loose floorboard that fits into the mix. The performance never rises to a frenetic level, and even when it flows rapidly, the mood always feels rather gentle, a quality emphasized by a recording that captures the sound of Oxley and fellow percussionist Stefan Hölker performing in a room, rather than a production that closely mics their artillery of instruments. Neither Oxley or Hölker play in a busy manner. They are respectful of each other’s space to such an extent that they practically become one sound, with Oxley’s electronics acting as an additional voice. This third element folds into the proceedings; sometimes it seems like a surly ogre that rises and falls, while at other times the electronics respond to the acoustic instruments, even playing them back in reverse. This subdued element presents a level of intrigue with these open-ended works, but it also means that the dynamic range doesn’t vary too much from track to track. What sounds methodical and alluring in “Composition 1” starts to wear a little thin a few tracks later, as if a search for the right sound continues, whatever that may be. In spite of this, the two tracks on The New World that last longer than ten minutes (“Compositions 4” and “6”) both offer some of the album’s best moments. “Composition 6” delivers the feeling to which the album has been gradually building. The electronics ebb and flow around the more pronounced drum strikes. Oxley plays more aggressively here, building towards crescendos and bangs, aided by more surprising elements that approximate garbled piano notes, banjo plucks and even a typewriter. Then, when everything seems wide awake and ready to blast off, the track fades out enigmatically. Perhaps Oxley, who died last December at age 85, wants to conclude this session by indicating that the music never really ends. – NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD

A highly creative drummer, best-known in the free jazz field, Tony Oxley first came to my attention after being one of the many names on the Nurse With Wound list that were unknown to me. Because of that, I purchased a copy of his eponymous 1975 Incus solo due to it containing four experimental percussion pieces that also involved electronics. Those four pieces I rather liked, although I didn’t get on with the other two tracks featuring the likes of Evan Parker, Derek Bailey and others. Although I encountered many other records over the years I never came across another release that so focused on his experimental percussion art, well that is until now. THE NEW WORLD dates from recording sessions in 2022 together with one Stefan Hölker, and is likely the very last recordings of Tony Oxley in that he died in late 2023 at the age of 85 in between me receiving this disc and getting down to reviewing it. A sad loss, although
he certainly had a good innings and surprising in that this would have been recorded when he was 83 or 84 years old. As an album, its six pieces all inhabit a similar field to those best pieces off the Incus LP, lots of bowed metallics, close-mic’d and over-amplified sounds, electronic processing (mostly modulation, resonance filters and ring modulation by the sound of it) plus abstract and regular use of drums and assorted other percussion. This method of working also reminds me of Eddie Prévost (of AMM), Roger Turner, or Walt Shaw, whilst also steering towards percussion focused avant-garde of the type people like Stockhausen and Xenakis have explored. If I have one criticism, that would be the lack of variety or anything that could be perceived as composition (despite all six pieces being titled Composition followed by the track number). With each track basically existing on one level, and very little to distinguish one piece from another, it all kind of blurs into an album length dip into a strange sound world. – Alan Freeman AUDION


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