FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004

FMP CD 103

Bert Noglik


Dialogue on the level of simultaneous activity

Two pioneers meet on a high plateau. They wander across scree covered slopes, in full command, without having to prove anything to themselves or to their listeners. Many years ago, both committed themselves to a long-term continuum, always understanding the playing as work and, at the same time, filling their musical activity with those particular enthusiasm generating energies which transcend the level of the pure music area. Both have succeeded in creating a new musical language and in differentiating it, in leaving behind a conventional canon of forms and liabilities without ending up in a shapeless impartial area.

In other words: the breaking away from the regularities of Jazz did not lead to chaos but to a new kind of dialectics of spontaneous expressiveness and control. Both Alexander von Schlippenbach and Tony Oxley have moved a considerable way away from Jazz without denying their origins in this music; and they have, at times, come nearer to the sound worlds of New Music without being taken over by them. Within the great arcs they build together there always remains a strong element of physical energy of movement which hints to the cult-like qualities of ethnic (or jazzmusic) traditions rather than to playing attitudes of European chamber music. Tony Oxley who, in the early years of his career – after all he was also, for a while, the house drummer at Ronnie Scott’s London Club – probably played more Jazz than some of the improvising musicians making an appearance at a later point in time, goes to quite an extreme with regards to the abstraction of any tradition. Nevertheless, in the dense passages, he lets a highly explosive energy be known and, in the sections with a reduced density of events, an unceasing, only more sublime way of building up tension. All this corresponds with Alexander von Schlippenbach‘s way of playing in such an intelligent and intuitive way that the dialogue moves to a level of simultaneous talking and reacting (as well as listening).

The basic and, at the same time, the fascinating thing about this uninterrupted interaction is the way the sounds and the rhythmic elements interlock. Tony Oxley who, like most drummers of this kind of music, approaches his work in a highly selective manner as regards the selection of sound sources and musical materials, has put together parts of a trap set as well as percussion ‘utensils’ to form an individual arsenal of instruments. It is unmistakable how he always thinks of, feels, uses rhythmical elements as sound elements at the same time. Very similar to Alexander von Schlippenbach who – now seen from the other side – introduces pianistic elements as percussive elements. A new quality of orchestral dimension is transferred to the small format of the duo. However, as opposed to Alexander von Schlippenbach’s „Globe Unity Orchestra”, already founded in 1966 or Tony Oxley’s „Celebration Orchestra” the playing in a one-to-one line up has to be much more concentrated (and more reduced) and can, at the same time, take place in a much freer way. Considerably freer than in the chamber music works of the European composers who, with and within those pieces, often generated material for their symphonic works.

Tony Oxley has defined his basic experience since the beginning of the sixties, when he set out into the domain of free improvisation with Derek Bailey and Gavin Bryars, as „emancipation from the dogma of the beat”: „The music began with silence. It no longer began with the rhythm section which had to ‚get it going‘.” Alexander von Schlippenbach, in the early years, as well, had corresponding experiences, in particular with regards to breaking away from the dogma of tonality. „The term ‚Atonality‘, inadmissible in the Schönberg sense, was the magic word. A real pandemonium of new sounds, forms and rhythm had opened up and offered an abundance of creative possibilities to those who grabbed hold and had the luck of finding like-minded people.”

It is almost weird that these two musicians, with so many things in common, did not find each other earlier. This may have something to do with long standing playing constellations and the chances of meeting. But the experiences Alex von Schlippenbach has collected together with Paul Lovens, Sven-Ake Johansson or Sunny Murray or those Tony Oxley has accumulated in the musical dialogue with Cecil Taylor, flow together in this dialogue situation, new to both of them but, at the same time, not without preconditions. The nuances in this interactive natural exchange between Alexander von Schlippenbach and Tony Oxley lie in putting together and leaving out, in avoiding and accentuating.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

zurück / back