Originally released in 1970, 4 Compositions for Sextet was one of a pair of records saxophonist Tony Oxley recorded for CBS, which, at that time, seemed to be very interested in British free jazz -- the label also recorded at least three LPs by avant guitarist Ray Russell and a pair by Evan Parker. Oxley's band for this outing was a dream group of Brit outsiders: Derek Bailey on guitars, Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flügelhorn, Evan Parker on saxophones, Oxley on drums of course (the only British drummer besides Robert Wyatt who could play pop or free jazz with equal enthusiasm), Paul Rutherford on bass, and Jeff Clyne on trombone. The four tunes are all outer-limits numbers; all methadrine takes on what were happening improvisations. It's true that there are loose structures imposed on all four tracks, but they quickly dissolve under the barrage of sonic whackery. At times, dynamic tensions present themselves, such as on the beautiful "Scintilla," where Bailey shows what made him Derek Bailey in the first place: his willingness to take even preconceived notions of free improvisation apart. There are also puzzling questions that the sextet cannot resolve (e.g., how far to take harmonic investigation). It's clear not even Parker wants it to completely disintegrate into the ether; he holds forth with Wheeler that some semblance of order, no matter how tenuous, be kept. And while it's true these selections all sound dated by today's standards, and by how far each man has come in terms of musical growth, there is still something compelling here in the chopped-out framework of "Amass" or Parker's attempt to blow Oxley from the room with outrageously long lines that seem to come from the mouthpiece of the horn rather than its bell in "Megaera." There is also a stalwart "anti-Americanism in all of it," an anger directed at the Yankee jazzers who were now moving toward fusion or even the avant cats who relied too heavily on tradition. Some of that nationalism still exists in Parker and Oxley, though Bailey could have cared less even then. In any case, this is a fine record historically, for seeing where the Brit free music movement came from.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek