Crisis client George reviews The Oxford Improvisers

The Oxford Improvisers invite guests from Britain and abroad to perform an evening of new and improvised music at the Old Fire Station once a month. Tickets for their upcoming 2019 sessions are available here

This session consisted of a series of three individual sets of music. The first, a duo of trumpet and tenor sax and bass clarinet. The second, The Oxford Improvisers, and the third, both the former two sets combined.

First set

Straight away, incredibly avant-garde: we have two performers who are communicating with each other without the use of traditional Western scales. Harmonically they have a lot to say –  about themselves, life, and the possibilities of what the future may hold. The listener knows that these players are more than capable of saying so much, and yet have a different approach in what they say.

We are now treated to a composition that is rooted in a stable time signature. They throw in lots of three over fours, but what they’re creating is  almost animalistic. Wow!  One player picks up the bass clarinet and the two create the sound of synchronised ships, with a long drawn out fog horn sound as they sail by. I can hear the clarinettist play a 50s/60s jazz melody while the trumpeter says some crazed harmonic lines over it. My comparisons of their style would verge upon Eric Dolphy, Ornette Colman – and, of course, Thelonius Monk.

They burst with sheer power into four/four. They simply are feeding off each other’s energy, exchanging comments like a priest reading the opening passage of a Psalm with the response from the congregation.

Brilliant, they now become melancholic – a kind of free-jazz, left-of-centre, sombre film soundtrack. They are weaving their own unique sounds around each other. They are now playing in four/four again and are fully letting go, and expressing their thoughts at this precise moment in time, but are playing with that same sombre tone that is so full of emotion. The clarinettist plays a looping riff while the trumpeter runs riot around it like a crazed cat!

Set Two

Numerous percussive instruments, violin, flugel horn, trumpet, contra bass and Moog (a kind of synthesiser).

Let’s go! Bizarre! Bass opens, and flugel hornist speaks through his horn, the violinist creates long drawn out lines to compensate the madness going on within the Moog that surrounds us. There is absolutely no Western scale structure whatsoever. Think of some kind of 1950s science fiction movie, or a radio on longwave that just cannot quite tune in.

This is by far not music for easy listening: this is music for people who have a visceral perspective on everything that surrounds us. The bassist is now using his bass as a drum as he bows it gently, flugel hornist alternates rapidly, the Moog taking the music by the scruff of the neck while the bassist slaps the strings with vigour, long drawn out monkey sounds on the bass, a cow bell rattles: it’s milk time. A staccato sound from the trumpet, like a creaky door that needs seriously oiling. The bass player scratches the body of his bass with a plastic strip, chiming bells, slow notes from the violin. We have a moment of calm then, BANG! It erupts again. Such a variation of sounds and depth, the violin takes centre stage surrounded by jingling bells, and a Moog that sounds like it has an electric fault. A bicycle bell in the background. They finish and will now be re-joined by the duo. The trumpeter/flugel player says, ‘Wow, I need a minute to gather myself’. Their music is diverse and extremely experimental with elements of producers such as Fripp and Eno, and Philip Glass.

Set Three, (A unanimous affair).

A muted Flugel horn that speaks, a Moog that won’t tune, air coming through a sax, a busy bassline now, a very rhythmical horn player sets the pace fast, a kind of miniature bodhran with strings and balls on it to create the sound. Now, that little whistle, Moog and violin solo, a gentle bass sound and also the saxophone. Now, all instruments escalate the intensity and volume. Hark, for the first time I hear vocals. The music itself has the feeling of a gentle bouncing ball, occasionally a player stops and listens attentively for the right moment to re-enter.