If on a spring night a baptised traveller

Tony Oxley Quintet
The Baptised Traveller
Columbia : 1969

TO, drums; Evan Parker, tenor sax; Kenny Wheeler, trumpet, flugelhorn; Derek Bailey, electric guitar; Jeff Clyne, bass.

This pilgrimage starts through the forest along dirt roads whose tracks vanish so gradually you’re bushwacking through the ferns before you finally notice. You’re surrounded by fog and mossy tree trunks, lost in the same mythical English woods inhabited by such haunted folk groups as Comus. In the distance, you might even make out the faint echo of their pulsating rhythms and strangulated cries. You continue to march forward and stumble through a clearing into the “Stone Garden.”

It’s a modest shrine of rocks arranged in various circular patterns, half overgrown with vegetation. The sort of place that might have been tended by gnomes, of the unfriendly d’Aulaires variety. You’re both wary and enthralled by these pagan places. You imagine yourself protected by your religion, but the vows can’t quite shake the sense that the Olde Ways have never fully vanished.

Tony Oxley’s classic The Baptised Traveller features an all-star line-up of British jazz, and notably marks guitarist Bailey’s first appearance on record (if this fine Clifford Allen review is on the mark). The second track on this relatively brief album, Charlie Mariano’s “Stone Garden,” is a stark change of pace from the more frenetic blow-outs. It’s almost a tone poem, slowly accreting layers of ambiant textures while traversing a distinctly English landscape. Or at least an eldritch English landscape as carved out by British avant jazz and free-folk groups circa the late ’60s, a clearing of porous border and shifting shadow.

Category Tony Oxley

6 Responses to If on a spring night a baptised traveller

  1. Now here’s a record, a very important record IMO. The ‘Baptised Traveller’ provided me with an entry point into the previously puzzling world of ‘free improvisation’. More than any other record I think, this gets a perfect balance between the improvised and the written, although the written content is just really small signposts that guide the way through the misty forest (to use your picture as an ideal analogy!).

    It took me a while to warm to ‘Four Compositions for Sextet’ that followed afterwards (and I’ve never heard ‘Ichnos’ or the Incus album which followed), but several years listening later I find that I understand this music and the sometimes harsh tonal and textural pallette is meat and drink to me.

    After hearing this, many more records followed this into my collection – Howard Riley, Barry Guy, Evan Parker etc – more than any other record it opened up this whole other area of music to me.

  2. Just a small thing. I don’t know the order of release or anything, but hadn’t Bailey had at least recorded the Brotzmann stuff (‘Nipples’, etc.), and certainly Joseph Holbrooke, before this? Karyobin wsa from ’68 as well, IIRC!

    Wonderful music though. Thank you!

  3. according to the european free improvisation website, these are all pre-1969:

    1965, Rehearsal extract, Incus CD single 01. Joseph Holbrooke.
    1966/67, Pieces for guitar, Tzadik TZ 7080. Solo compositions and improvisations.
    1967, Withdrawal (1966-7), Emanem 4020. Spontaneous Music Ensemble.
    1968, Karyobin, Chronoscope CPE2001-2. Spontaneous Music Ensemble.

  4. Hi Olie,

    Yes – didn’t think to look there! In which case, Karyobin is the one I’m not sure about in terms of release date…the others are definitely later releases, I think…

    I must check out ‘Withdrawal’ – looks like a great line-up…

  5. nice allusion to the Calvino book. great book.

  6. Did Mariano record this? I’d love to hear his approach.Thanks for putting this up.