by Ian Mann
May 29, 2022
Ian Mann enjoys the music of the quartet version of the Oxley-Meier guitar project as guitarists Pete Oxley & Nicolas Meier are joined by bassist / percussionist Raph Mixraki & drummer Paul Cavciuti.
Oxley-Meier Guitar Project, Ludlow Assembly Rooms, Ludlow, Shropshire, 28/05/2022.
Pete Oxley – guitars, Nicolas Meier – guitars, glissentar, Raph Mizrakil – electric & acoustic basses, castanets, darbuka, Paul Cavaciuti – drums, percussion
Guitarists Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier have worked together for over a decade, mainly as a duo. Their début album in this format, the live recording “Travels to the West” was released on Meier’s MPG label in 2012 and this was followed in 2015 by the studio set “Chasing Tales”.
The 2017 double album “The Colours of Time” featured one disc of guitar duets while the second saw the group extended to a quartet with addition of bassist Raph Mizraki, a long time associate of Bexley’s, and drummer Paul Cavaciuti.
2019’s “The Alluring Ascent” was a full quartet album, with the group augmented on five of the ten tracks by percussionist Keith Faibairn. The quartet intend to record a further album in 2022, this to feature a selection new compositions from both Oxley and Meier that have already been “played in” (Oxley’s words) on the road.
To this end the quartet have been touring extensively in the UK and in France during April and May 2022 with this date at Ludlow Assembly Rooms representing the last gig of the tour. Over the course of two lengthy, value for money sets we were to hear a wealth of the Project’s new material plus a smattering of old favourites from previous albums.
It was a shame that there were not more people present to see and hear this enormously talented band. It was certainly unfortunate that the gig was scheduled on the night of the Champions League Final, particularly with a British club being involved, and that may have affected the attendance. Also the ticket price of £22.00, a lot in such a rural area, may have deterred some waiverers. Nevertheless the audience that was there was enthusiastic and highly supportive, the positivity of the crowd helping to turn the evening into a highly enjoyable occasion.
I recall seeing Oxley’s curiously named New Noakes Quintet play a very enjoyable show at this same venue around twenty years ago, before I started writing about jazz, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I also remember seeing his Curios Paradise group shortly afterwards, a band that included Mizraki, saxophonist Mark Lockheart and pianist Richard Fairhurst.
Both Oxley and Meier were members of Eclectica, a string quartet with a difference that also featured classical cellist Bernard Gregor-Smith and genre hopping violinist / vocalist Lizzie Ball. This line up released the suitably quirky album “Flight of Fancy” back in 2011. Oxley is also well known as the proprietor of The Spin Jazz Club in Oxford.
Swiss born, London based Meier has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages for many years, beginning with my review of his “Orient” album in 2006. I have since charted his development as a guitarist and composer over a series of several albums including “Journey” (2010), “Breeze” (also 2010) and “From Istanbul to Ceuta with a Smile” (2010). His current working band is the Nicolas Meier World Group which has issued the albums “Peaceful” (2019), “Live” (2020) and the impressive triple set “Magnificent” (2022), all of which have been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. Meier is also a regular collaborator, most famously with fellow guitarist Jeff Beck but also with vocalist and songwriter Gabrielle Ducomble and with jazz cellist Shirley Smart. Indeed this was Meier’s second visit to Shropshire in a week following his performance with Smart’s quartet at Clun Valley Jazz in Bishop’s Castle the previous Saturday.
Meier is a musician I have seen performing live on many occasions, often with a version of his World Group. In 2017 he and Oxley performed in the duo format at the now sadly defunct Hermon Chapel venue in Oswestry. It was around the time of the release of the “Colours in Time” album and I’ve been looking forward to seeing them perform in the quartet format ever since. Review of the Oswestry performance here;
Tonight’s stage set up featured an impressive array of seven guitars with varying numbers of strings, plus a similarly impressive range of effects pedals. Mizracki had brought along two electric basses, one double bass and a couple of items of percussion, while Cavaciuti was to man a large and imposing drum kit. This display of musical hardware was enough to dazzle the audience before the members of the Project even took to the stage.
When they did ‘hit the boards’ they commenced the show with a new Meier composition titled “Rainbows”, which was distinguished by fast Metheny like strumming and inherently melodic soloing as Oxley and Meier traded solos, alternating between the roles of soloist and accompanist. The Metheny analogy is never far away when discussing the work of Oxley and Meier (indeed the duo’s début album includes a version of Pat’s “Travels”) and Oxley’s second solo found him deploying a ‘sitar guitar’ sound similar to that on Metheny’s “Last Train Home”. The guitarists received excellent support from Mizraki on supple five string electric bass and from the crisp, hard driving drumming of Cavacuiti.
Oxley took up the compositional reins for “The Silver Surface of the Sea”, written on a writing retreat to Lyme Regis. This was an atmospheric and episodic piece, introduced by the two guitarists with a series of delicately intertwining arpeggios. With the introduction of Cavaciuti’s cymbal embellishments the music began to gather momentum, incorporating solos from Mizraki on electric bass and Meier on guitar.
Meier’s wife, Songul, is Turkish and provides the beautiful artwork that graces the covers of his albums. She has also encouraged his increasing fascination with the music of Turkey and the wider Mediterranean, something that has helped to make his music more personal and distinctive as he has increasingly moved away from that initial Metheny influence.
A case in point is the composition “Out Homeland” from the “Alluring Ascent” album, This was to feature Meier on the fretless eleven string glissentar, an instrument built by the Canadian guitar company Godin that convincingly approximates the sound of the oud. The piece was introduced by a percussion discussion between Cavaciuti, an impish presence behind the kit throughout, and Mizraki, who impressed with his skills on both the darbuka drum and the castanets, gravitating between the two instruments as he and Cavciuti traded ideas, often in highly humorous fashion. Mizraki then moved back to electric bass as the music gathered momentum, with Meier cutting loose on the glissentar, but there were also moments of quieter reflection when the melodic lines of guitar, glissentar and bass gently intertwined as Cavaciuti temporarily took a back seat.
A newer Meier tune, a jazz waltz titled “A Visit To Heaven” was an altogether gentler affair with Mizraki moving to double bass for the first time and Cavaciuti deploying brushes in the opening stages. Mizraki’s double bass feature revealed him to be equally melodic as a soloist on the acoustic version of the instrument as he had been on the electric model. Meanwhile Oxley and Meier were to feature on eight and six string guitars respectively.
The prolific Meier also contributed “The Spice Bazaar”, another composition emphasising the influence of Turkish music on his writing. This time he achieved that oud like sound on fretless guitar as he shared the solos with Oxley’s eight string, the latter’s solo really singing and soaring.
Mizraki, meanwhile had moved back to electric bass.
A lengthy first set concluded with Oxley’s composition “Surging Waves”, another piece written on that visit to Lyme Regis. “Nic always writes his half of the album first”, confessed Oxley, “then I have to go away and try to come up with my half”. This was an intricate piece that was introduced by Cavaciuti at the drums and which saw Mizraki reverting to double bass. Cavaciuti was also to feature as a soloist, his extended drum feature sandwiched by solos from Meier and Oxley, the latter at his most Metheny-ish.
Set two commenced with the new Meier composition “Timeless”, not to be confused with the late, great John Abercrombie’s tune of the same name. “It’s about drummers!” joked Cavaciuti, a running gag throughout the whole tour one would imagine. This featured Meier on twelve string and Oxley on six string, with both guitarists making judicious use of their range of effects.
Historically many of Oxley’s compositions have been inspired by nature and this set of compositions from Lyme Regis represents a continuation of that tradition. “The Pulse” was inspired by the pulsing of the waves and this was to find expression in the quartet’s music. This was a piece that unfolded slowly and organically, building from an atmospheric twin guitar introduction that again made extensive use of various effects, before evolving into a highly melodic piece that included fluent solos from both guitarists and concluded with the suitably watery shimmers of Cavaciuti’s cymbals.
Oxley’s ballad “Mercurial Views” was also inspired by that Lyme Regis trip, the title derived from the ever changing seascape. This featured Mizraki’s acoustic bass and Cavaciuti’s delicate brush work, plus the melodic soloing of both Oxley and Meier, the overall feel of the piece reminding me a little of Metheny’s “Farmer’s Trust”.
The glissentar enjoyed a second outing on the new Meier composition “Crossroads”, another piece with a strong Middle Eastern influence. Introduced by the guitarists working in tandem the piece later developed a propulsive electric bass and drum groove. Meier’s solo featured an oud like sound, a brief unaccompanied interlude, and a series of exchanges with Oxley’s guitar. The irrepressible Cavaciuti was featured behind the kit, before handing over to Oxley to take the music home.
Oxley’s “East Coast Joys”, sourced from the “Alluring Ascent” album, closed the set. As the title might suggest this was a suitably upbeat number that featured the composer on electric 12 string guitar, sharing the solos with Meier’s six string and Mizraki’s virtuoso electric bass, variously reminiscent of Jaco Pastorius and ex-Metheny bassist Mark Egan.
The warmth and spontaneity of the audience reaction to this high energy set closer prompted the band to remain on stage for an encore, the Oxley composition “Lodder Leaps In” from the “Travels to the West” album. Cheekily named for keyboard player Steve Lodder this was a piece that had the feel of a jazz standard, indeed I though it was until Meier corrected me when we spoke after the show. In mitigation this was an easy mistake for me to make, the tune is certainly written in that style, based around a series of chord changes and it provoked the most obvious bebop style playing of the entire set. Oxley and Meier exchanged licks and solos, the tune gradually accelerating and also providing the opportunity for Mizraki and Cavaciuti to feature on double bass and drums respectively.
Those that were there, myself included, enjoyed this performance a lot. The lack of audience numbers was more than made up for by the warmth and enthusiasm of those that had ventured out. I’d guess that the ratio of CD sales to people present was pretty healthy, and deservedly so.
The playing was excellent throughout, as one would expect from musicians of this calibre. Most of the material was new and sheafs of sheet music adorned the stage, prompting occasional between tune discussions. This, allied to the occasional technical glitch, meant that the show wasn’t as slick as it might have been, but this is jazz and nobody seemed to mind to much. In any event Oxley and Meier presented the show with warmth and self deprecating wit, with occasional humorous interjections from Cavaciuti, ever the joker, and Mizraki.
More importantly the standard of writing from Meier and Oxley proved to be well up to their usual standards and I have no doubt that this tour has served its purpose with regard to ‘playing the songs in’. I now look forward to hearing them on disc in due course, once the Project go into the studios later in the year.
My thanks to Nic and Pete for speaking with me afterwards and to all four musicians for an excellent and enjoyable evening of music making. Well worth missing the football for.
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