by Ian Mann
December 07, 2017
"Eleven guitars and ninety six strings". Ian Mann enjoys a duo performance by guitarists Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier and takes a look at their new album "The Colours of Time".
PETE OXLEY / NICOLAS MEIER GUITAR PROJECT, HERMON CHAPEL ARTS CENTRE, OSWESTRY, 24/11/2017.
Hermon Chapel Arts Centre is a new venture based in a former Welsh Congregational chapel in Oswestry curated by guitarist Barry Edwards and ceramic artist Claudia Lis.
I know Claudia from her one time involvement with the Shrewsbury Jazz Network when she helped to co-ordinate live events at The Hive Music & Media Centre dealing with front of house and band liaison.
She has now teamed up with Barry to bring live jazz to the good folks of Oswestry along with music from other genres, including folk and rock plus live theatre, comedy, poetry slams and more.
Let’s hope that they can develop a loyal local following for their varied activities.
As well as live performances music workshops are also very much part of the programme with saxophonists Gilad Atzmon and Alan Barnes among the musicians to have successfully led such events.
Although it’s a long distance from my base Claudia has been keen for me to visit the venue for a while and this duo performance by two of the British jazz scene’s leading guitarists seemed to offer the ideal opportunity. The Chapel itself represents an excellent performance space with good sight lines and excellent acoustics. Claudia has deployed her artistic skills to decorate the place in agreeably Bohemian fashion and I was pleased to discover a polypin of real ale on the bar from Monty’s Brewery in nearby Montgomery. A nice pint of Monty’s Sunshine seemed very appropriate at a jazz concert.
It has to be said that on a cold November night it was a rather chilly inside the Chapel and this may have helped to keep the numbers low, although it was good to see Laurie and Debbie Grey from Shrewsbury Jazz Network among the crowd. “A small but perfectly formed audience” as Pete Oxley put it.
Tonight’s date was part of an extensive UK tour being undertaken by the duo in support of their recently released double album “The Colours Of Time” which appears on Meier’s own MGP record label. Disc one consists solely of duo performances, many of which we were to hear tonight, while the second disc features the pair as part of a quartet including bassist Raph Mizraki and drummer Paul Cavaciuti.
Although I’d seen both Oxley and Meier perform live before in other contexts tonight was the first time that I’d actually seen them play together. Their stage gear consisted of no fewer than eleven guitars, these equipped with a total of ninety six strings, a truly impressive display of the luthier’s art. Each musician also had his own pedal-board but the use of FX was judicious and tasteful, this performance was essentially about each man’s picking skills.
Clad in their flamboyant stage shirts the duo commenced with Meier’s “The Followers”, a tune actually recorded in the quartet format. It sounded just as good in the context of the duo with Oxley playing an electric Gibson six string and Meier a Godin acoustic twelve string. Oxley soloed first, adopting a conventional, warm toned jazz guitar sound, nimbly dancing above Meier’s rhythmic strumming.
Also by Meier “Waltz For Dilek”, a tune from the acoustic half of the new album, found both men playing guitars manufactured by the Canadian Godin company. Oxley was playing a seven string model with an additional bass string, Meier a conventional six string. Like the opener this was a highly melodic composition that saw the musicians reversing roles with Meier providing the first solo while Oxley focussed on rhythmic duties. Oxley then assumed the lead before handing back to Meier, whose playing incorporated Balkan and gypsy jazz influences.
A third Meier composition, “Princes’ Islands” was inspired by a location near Istanbul where the composer now lives. The Swiss born Meier is married to a Turkish woman, Songul, who provides the beautiful and distinctive artwork for all of Meier’s album releases, including “The Colours of Time”. Meier’s domestic circumstances have encouraged his interest in Turkish music with this tune a case in point with the composer playing a fretless nylon six string manufactured by Godin with Oxley remaining on the seven string. Meier took the first solo, his sound distinctive and unmistakably Middle Eastern. Oxley then succeeded him before a final set of exchanges at the close.
Oxley then took over the compositional reins for “Chasing Kites”, inspired by the red kites living in the Chilterns near Oxley’s Oxford base – he also runs The Spin Jazz Club in the city. Another piece recorded in the quartet format this featured the composer on seven string as he traded solos with Meier who was playing a Godin nylon six string. Meier’s solo included flamenco style strumming while the diminuendo at the close of the piece, “a live studio fade out”, as Oxley described it, was intended to represent the elusive kites soaring out of reach of their pursuers.
A second Oxley composition, “A Piece for Peace” saw the trio in ballad mode with Oxley playing an electric twelve string and Meier the Godin nylon six string. Meier took the first solo backed by Oxley’s twelve string chording before the composer took over, sounding a little like Pat Metheny when the latter played twelve string in vibraphonist Gary Burton’s mid seventies quintet.
The first set concluded with “Riversides”, a Meier tune recorded on the album in the quartet format. This introduced yet another instrument, an eleven string fretless ‘glissentar’ manufactured by Godin that replicated the sound of the oud. Following an unaccompanied introductory passage from Meier Oxley took a solo on the electric twelve string before handing back to the composer.
The second half began with Oxley’s “Song for Z.T.” which he dedicated to his former classical guitar tutor Zach Taylor. The composer introduced the piece on unaccompanied seven string before providing the accompaniment to Meier’s melodic nylon six string solo, the latter making subtle use of FX. The piece ended as it began with a further solo passage from Oxley on the nylon seven string.
Also by Oxley “The Key of Klimt” was named for the colourful artwork of Gustav Klimt but took its musical inspiration from the minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. The arpeggiated, intertwining lines of the two guitarists grew ever more complex and colourful, evoking images both of Klimt’s visual art and of musical works such as Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint”.
Meier’s “Sahara” saw the return of his eleven string fretless glissentar which helped to give the music an authentically North African feel. Oxley, playing the seven string included some impressive note bending techniques during his own solo.
The performance concluded with two new tunes by Oxley which are likely to be recorded on the duo’s next album. The first of these, “Autumn Enters” featured Oxley on a distinctive six string electric sitar guitar with twelve small sympathetic strings. Needless to say this gave the piece a highly distinctive sound that was at times reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s playing on the tune “Last Train Home”.
For “The Austin Bar” Oxley explained that he was looking for “a Texas feel” and this was achieved by the means of the six string Gibson electric heard right at the beginning of the show, and Meier’s acoustic twelve string. Oxley took the first solo, followed by Meier, with the music again sounding rather Metheney-ish, this time I was reminded of Pat’s solo album of multi-tracked guitar pieces “New Chatauqua”.
Coaxed by Barry Edwards the duo were persuaded to play a brief encore which saw both of them playing Gibson electrics and adopting a more conventional, bebop inspired guitar sound as they traded solos, the music also containing more than a hint of the blues. I assume that this was a standard but I didn’t recognise it and forgot to ask what it was afterwards. I blame the Monty’s.
Pete Oxley and Nic Meier have been working together for ten years and have recorded several albums. Their skill and rapport was in evidence throughout this performance and the light hearted but informative tune announcements added much to the experience. Compositions and solos were divided equally and there was no sense of competition, only of co-operation. Both guitarists are highly accomplished musicians and genuinely very nice guys.
Graced with Songul’s artwork the “Colours of Time” album works extremely well. The duo disc makes subtle use of overdubbing and sometimes three or more guitars can be heard on any one track.
The quartet disc is also highly effective and hugely enjoyable. Having enjoyed seeing Oxley and Meier perform in the duo format I’d now love to see them play a similar show in the context of a quartet.
Despite the plunging temperatures I enjoyed my inaugural visit to Hermon Chapel and hope to return again in 2018. In the meantime I wish Barry and Claudia every success with their new venture. It takes time to build an audience but with their dedication and enthusiasm they will surely do so. This is another Project that deserves to succeed.
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