Composition No. 30 SIMON H. FELL Composition No. 30

[full press reviews]


"Fuses the energy and spontaneity of jazz and improvised music with the rigour and intellectual discipline of serial, aleatoric and other contemporary compositional techniques." AVANT

"A remarkable piece of music." Dan Given CHRW FM

"Fell's Promethean aspirations become truly apparent on Compilation III, which extends across two CDs and involves the energies of more than 40 musicians. Far more dramatically than Compilation I (1985) and Compilation II (1990), this sequel effects a higher synthesis of classical composition, contemporary jazz and free improvisation. Gilt-edged musicianship is in evidence from performers of the calibre of John Butcher, Alan Wilkinson, Paul Hession and Orphy Robinson. There is seamless skill in the execution of Compilation III, and it sounds just right throughout. Clearly, it merits far more extensive listening than a reviewer's brief permits, but initial exposure suggests that this is a genuinely important work. Fell's serialist tenets are radically energised by the shades of Mingus and Dolphy, while the baggy excesses which can mar jazz or extended free improvisation have been pared away, leaving a finely variegated and beautifully balanced composition." Julian Cowley THE WIRE

"This album has been conceived on such a large scale that one must refer for comparison to the monumental concertos Michael Mantler wrote for Cecil Taylor and the Jazz Composers Orchestra in 1968. Fell has written serial scores, engaged in state-of-the-art improvisation, conceived propulsive jazz themes, provoked skronk guitar and then montaged and overlapped the results in the recording studio. Clocking in at over two hours, a sense of epic adventure replaces the dazzling simultaneity of his 40-minute gem Compilation II. There are moments of bathos as heated abstraction lunges into palm-court irony, or brisk Vienna Art Orchestra swing, but these are all part of Fell's perverse vision. Such eclecticism braces the ears for the passages that surge beyond the hitherto-heard. Fell takes the rhythmic subdivisions of the latest improvisations into his compositional structure, proposing a more active, detailed listening than hitherto possible. Rhythm sections recorded at different times are layered on top of each other (a 'xenochrony' borrowed from Frank Zappa) to create mind-blowingly dense yet swinging textures. This is Luigi Nono rejecting nostalgia in favour of toothsome grooves from Duke Ellington and Cosmonauts Hail Satan. While South Bank publicists promote histrionic vulgarities like Mark-Anthony Turnage's Your Rockaby as the 'ultimate' crossover between jazz and classical, Fell is laying the foundations for utopian music-making beyond the divide. Serious stuff: the debate about 2lst-century music starts right here. A:1*" Ben Watson HIFI NEWS & RECORD REVIEW

"This is, I promise, a rare treat. One of Fell's concerns is to "prove how groovy and swinging serialism is", and in Part 3: Blues (and elsewhere) he does just that: quasi-Mingusian big band choruses, handclapping and swaggering riffs are grafted on to an inventive free-style workout by Paul Hession and Mick Beck. Serendipity may play a part, but it would be foolish to deny Fell his due . . . . . he's an editing suite collagist, with a rare ability to create something meaningful out of ill-assorted fragments. If improv is your primary interest, there is much here to enjoy." Brian Marley AVANT

"The simultaneous publication of these 3 CDs (9 Points In Ascent, Frankenstein & Composition No. 30) demonstrates once more Simon H. Fell's catalysing method of operations, comparable to that of William Parker in New York. An instrumentalist with a proven technique, the bassist has also established himself as a composer with a passion for experiment, and both these aspects of his personality are evident on each of these discs. Remarkable for its ambitious objective as well as the means employed, Composition No. 30 must be recognised as a significant event for British jazz. This is not one of those cases where the rehashing of some elephantesque reunion group substitutes egocentricity for real dialogue between the participants. The short sequences or interludes for full brass or strings are written, and serve mainly to underline or support a multitude of small ensembles (from duo to string octet) consisting of unusual instrumental combinations; for example the piccolo opposed to the stunning contrabass clarinet of Charles Wharf. As for the formal aspects of this work, it refers to numerous sources of inspiration: ballad, straight jazz, contemporary classical music but always with an overall predominance of free improvisation. Intriguing, unexpected, surprising, disturbing but always impassioned and thrilling, Composition No. 30 fully realises the fruit of its ambitions." Gustave Cerutti IMPROJAZZ

"Fell seems to play bass with an almost frightening attack, and I feel this energy transfers to the players he works with. There seems to be a real craftsmanship at the heart of his work, a very considered process as methodical (but not, thankfully, as over-elaborate) as Stockhausen's large-scale works such as Inori/Formel. I personally prefer what he does to the throw-everything-together-and-see-what-sticks approach of our eclectic American friends John Zorn, Henry Kaiser or Eugene Chadbourne. Composition No. 30 struck me immediately as being an extremely dense CD, I mean not a single musical moment gone to waste over the entire 2 CD set. Another thing I like about this record is how it achieves so many astonishing effects, almost exclusively through acoustic instruments... Fell's music is exciting to me because it communicates several very different elements simultaneously. The Compilation II record, for example, even at its simplest sounds like Albert Ayler free jazz and Stockhausen electronic music playing at the same time - causing sparks to fly. This is kaleidoscopic music for listeners with eight-track minds. Can listeners cope? Are people willing to listen in four dimensions?" Ed Pinsent THE SOUND PROJECTOR

"a major work" Mark Russell MIXING IT, BBC RADIO 3

"Two hours of music, 42 musicians, one mad genius at its centre. I am starting to believe that Simon H. Fell is one of the most important composers alive, and releases like this just make the case more cut-and-dried by the minute. It's a suite of pieces, unified by structural elements of Fell's serialist compositions, assembled in the studio from performances of notated sections and from improvisations. The sound-world is generally either free-improv or free jazz, which might sound like an obvious statement but the two styles cross and re-cross with considerable complexity, forming one of the most immediate means of orientation within this massive piece of work. So there are big-band sections influenced by Mingus and, one suspects, AACM arrangers like Muhal Richard Abrams, rubbing up against spaced-out ambient improv and scratchy, angular interplay. What is unique about Fell's project - his genuinely swinging serialist jazz heads are impressive enough, but there's more - is his co-option of what Zappa called "'xenochrony", in which completely distinct performances are united, any apparent interplay between the musicians being purely coincidental. The listener works on such material, hearing correspondences between the parts which could never have been intended by the musicians. Zappa is rather scathing about this in the sleeve notes to Sheikh Yerbouti, but the truth is that the listener often plays as great a part in the creation of musical cohesion as the performers, not only in xenochronous pieces but in more conventional ones as well. Composition No. 30 makes xenochrony the rule rather than the exception; the result is utterly unexpected, even unexpectable music which nevertheless seems completely logical." Richard Cochrane RESONANCE

"Present are such virtuosi as harpist Rhodri Davies, superb saxophonist John Butcher and two ace free drummers, Mark Sanders and Paul Hession. But this is Fell's project and sometimes the musicians will find themselves uprooted and overdubbed in diverse and delightful ways. Until drum and bass, free improvisation was the first indigenous British music to be developed for years. And it's never been more active or more fun." Steve Beresford MUSICIAN

"Simon Fell is a wise and canny experimental composer, leader and bassist who continues to document his steady output of both large- and small-scale works on his Bruce's Fingers label. The monumental Composition No.30, which represents Fell's third 'Compilation' for large ensemble, is, in my view, an important monument in the history of late 20th Century music. Based on the large assortment of compositional techniques utilized in the creation of Composition No. 30, it's almost a miracle that it should be as uniformly good as it turned out. According to the copious notes, the 125-plus minute work is entirely based on a single 12-tone row, and there is an "ornate and mathematical basis to every aspect of its existence". But this is clearly a serialism of which many purists would disapprove. There is a good deal of free improvisation, some blues, and a hunk of big band Jazz writing and riffing. One can also find liberal grafting of material originally improvised over one sort of background onto settings of an entirely different nature. Other modern methods of musical creation are, no doubt, also lurking around. The result has a scope and sound somewhat reminiscent of Braxton's orchestral epics, but there is a wider variety to Fell's giantism. In this single piece one finds not only Ives, Webern, Cage, Ligeti, Partch, and Boulez, but also Ellington, Mingus, Sousa, Sun Ra, and even a little urban blues. It's as if all of Braxton's varied and copious output were microscoped into one audacious work for large ensemble. Fell seems to me to have created a piece of music on the level of Boulez' Pli Selon Pli and Ives' Holidays Symphony. It's what Bernstein and Berio may have been trying (unsuccessfully) to do with their Mass and Sinfonia (respectively), and what Ornette Coleman and Butch Morris are striving for in Skies of America and in countless large ensemble "conductions." Fell's Composition No. 30 for Improvisers, Big Band and Chamber Ensemble is nothing less than a summing up and distillation of the experimental strains of Western music at the end of the millennium. It's a resounding success. Based solely on the sound of the music produced (I've neither seen the score nor attempted any sort of formal analysis), I'm inclined to think that Fell has exaggerated the import of adherence to ex ante mathematical prescriptions in this work. Fell may be too humble to believe it, but the credit lies not in the numbers or even the stars, but in himself (and a few of his wonderful colleagues): together they have produced a modern masterpiece. In a review of this nature, I can't do more than touch on a few of the highlights and dark patches that can be found in this wonderful recording, but here are a few (in no particular order) that come readily to mind. The reed work of Wharf, Butcher, Wilkinson, Beck, and of all the flutists is terrific throughout. There is a nifty transcription of Webern's opus 30 Variations for big band, utilizing Fell's very different tone row (and his deft walking bass). The contributions of all the percussionists (and, besides vibes, I here include also prepared piano, harpsichord and dulcichord) are quite wonderful: a good example may be found on the Boulez-tinged Quartet. The polyphonic writing is a brilliant example of lucidity amid complexity. Check out Construct 3 for one example of how a Byzantine (not to say "Carterian") architectural intricacy can be consistent with perfect intelligibility. The misterioso opening of Part 5 reminded me of Ligeti's spacey Lontano. Stefan Jaworzyn's killer guitar work leaves terrifying footprints wherever it touches down. Much of Fell's work with Wharf on Construct 5 seems physically impossible: it's no surprise that their recent duo release Frankenstein is so arresting and off-kilter. Composition No. 30 should not only be considered as one of the top ten recordings of the year, but (move over all you Cardews, Birtwistles and Ferneyhoughs!) as one of the most important musical works to come out of Britain since the Sixties." Walter Horn CADENCE

"Composition No. 30 refers to Simon H. Fell's most adventurous large-scale work to date, Compilation III (Compilations I & II date from 1985 and 1990), "for Improvisers, Big Band and Chamber Ensemble", Involving 42 musicians. The results are exhilarating. Strategies include improvisation, serial notation, and studio contrived "xenochronous combinations" - constructing works from parts of recordings made at different times/places. The work's wide-ranging tone-colours, derived from unusual instrumental combinations, are immediately impressive; for instance, a quartet of contrabass clarinet, contrabassoon, piccolo and dulcichord in Part 1 and Part 6. Likewise, unpredictable transitions from non-idiomatic improv to notated avant-garde chamber to swinging, Mingus influenced jazz are achieved with bags of gusto. Among the high points are John Butcher's, Mark Sanders' and Fell's finely controlled, mysterious meeting at the strand of nightmares (Part 2); the delicately applied, luminous tones of Orphy Robinson, Rhodri Davies, Sanders and Fell (Quartet); and the traumatically inventive noise improv of Alan Wilkinson (on wonderfully gutsy, commanding form), Stefan Jaworzyn and Fell (Part 5). At about 126 minutes, Compilation III is a major statement which demands repeat hearings to appreciate the intricacies of Simon H. Fell's ingenious structural vision. Complex it may be, but never too clever by half. And it's especially heartening to see the National Lottery putting its money into art that really matters." Chris Blackford RUBBERNECK

"He is almost a Duke Ellington or Charles Mingus for the 1990s, with their same capability for managing big musical projects. Those giants were no purists, and neither is Fell: not simply a jazz/free improv player he composes and arranges; and embraces modem recording and sampling technology inspired by the heroes of early musique concrete tapework. Fell has experimented freely within these fields with great success, as his recorded output demonstrates." Ed Pinsent THE SOUND PROJECTOR

"The big one. Fell's career might have been leading up to this magnum opus. We might say that Fell has worked through several major modern musical developments this century, and made them work that bit better. Improvisation - allowing his players to blow free but then using xenochronicity to make further exciting combinations, and tape editing to leave only the choicest moments. Elaborate Stockhausen-like composition refitted into a leaner, more efficient, streamlined model. Musical architecture with plenty of open spaces. Tapework - all studio techniques are permitted, even if they're considered to be 'cheating' by some. Some eight years in the making this record is a Noah's Ark filled to the brim with an entire menagerie of talented musicians and musical styles. Like Noah, Fell is the compassionate zookeeper tending to all the beasts great and small, from the tiniest mosquito to the largest elephant; play this record and that's the range of detail you'll hear. To extend the ocean-going metaphor, a trip through the two hours of this record is to live inside the belly of the whale - a trawl through the ocean of 20th century where musical history has been swallowed whole. The luckiest man alive would be Jonah who could happily have spent the rest of his life inside this treasure-house of delights. And yet the cover art modestly seems to be saying the work is no more than a pebble washed up on the beach. I think a similar analogy was used by Isaac Newton when asked to reflect on his career of scientific discovery." Ed Pinsent THE SOUND PROJECTOR

A Wire record of the year (Jazz & Improvised) 1998

"1998's record of the year" Ben Watson THE WIRE

"Despite impressive projects from George Russell to Barry Guy, there are few successes in the effort to merge improvisation with extended compositional form. Even while John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Cecil Taylor evolved their music into organic processes, it was on a small group, never an orchestral scale. Duke Ellington's larger ambitions inspired Mingus's knack for merging diverse themes into coherent collages. British bass player Fell shows comparable energy - the dramatic segue from a solo harp interlude into the compelling Blues section, for example, generates energy I associate with Mingus. This is serious music that swings like a mother." David Lewis EXCLAIM

"Simon Fell is a leading composer of his generation, crossing boundaries and creating music of a passion and originality unusual in Britain." THE VIRGIN ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF JAZZ

"Composition No. 30 is a new landmark in the building of a boundless music: a Tower of Babel being built by a utopian engineer of sound. Charles Mingus refracted through John Cage, serialism through swing. This work, at the same time both precomposed yet truly open to freedom, must mark the beginning of a new era." Alexandre Pierrepont JAZZ MAGAZINE

A Cadence record of the year (1998)

"Simon H. Fell is one of the most under-recognized bassists in contemporary music. Having made exceptional records on his own Bruce's Fingers record label since 1985, Fell's improvised work has ranged from the power free-jazz of the Hession/Wilkinson/Fell trio to the quiet, AMM-like subtleties of the VHF group with Graham Halliwell and Simon Vincent. Fell is not exclusively an improviser, however. He is also a highly original and extremely ambitious composer. Composition No. 30, a positively massive, two hour piece for 13 improvisers, 17-piece big band and 12-part chamber ensemble, is Fell's largest-scale recorded project and most impressive of his composed works. His compositional style is somewhat of a melting pot of Anthony Braxton's hyper-complex musical systems, John Cage's belief in the virtues of chance and indeterminacy, Charles Mingus' swinging arrangements and Charles Ives' love of quotation and simultaneity. What results in this piece is an amazingly individualistic and exciting approach to musical composition and group improvisation that certainly meets (if not surpasses) Barry Guy's work with the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra. Like Guy and the LJCO, Fell allows for familiar combinations of musicians - such as the Hession/Wilkinson/Fell trio or Ist - to emerge from the mix but also takes advantage of the unfamiliar by occasionally restricting a player's ability to hear the other players, desynchronizing the recordings of individual musicians, or actually moving solos from one context to another to discover new and unexpected possibilities. In the liner notes, Fell writes that the piece is "unnecessarily complex, ornate and mathematical" It is this that the total serialists of the 50s and beyond, such as Pierre Boulez and Milton Babbitt, failed to understand, and it is that which is responsible for a significant amount of this composition's brilliance. Fell utilizes dry and rigid mathematical principles as part of his compositional process but then breathes life into his music rhythmically (a few sections really swing) or by adding the flexible elements of improvisation and indeterminacy. Pre-determined and improvised sections aren't merely brought together in a segregated yet amiable fashion like in the work of Guy or Michael Mantler but are instead truly fused into a homogenous mixture of contemporary classical composition, abstract improvisation and jazz. Listening to this music, I feel as if it is an inexhaustible document - that there is more substance, more happening than I could ever take in. Even in the most abstract of sections, there is an underlying sense of logic. This is truly a land-mark recording in contemporary music" Tom Pratt SIGNAL TO NOISE

"The duality of Fell's music has made the double bass player/composer something of an inconstant for the British improvisation community. Moreover, his formal works (such as the brilliant Composition No. 30) have been ignored - or, at best, abided - by the contemporary compositional establishment. None of which has proved a hindrance to Fell, whose admired yet relentlessly unconventional Bruce's Fingers imprint has served as an efficient outlet for much of his activity." Gil Gershman MOTION

"Fell is a leading bass player on the British scene and an increasingly ambitious composer. One of the busiest bass players on the European free-improvisation circuit, he condenses everything he has learned into epic projects he calls Compilations. He has recently completed Compilation Ill, a double CD that uses orchestra and soloists to inter-mingle jazz themes, improvisations, and experimental composition - serial, aleatoric, and polytonal. It is tempting to claim that nothing has been attempted on both the physical and conceptual scale of Compilation Ill since 1968, when Michael Mantler released his landmark Third Stream double album, Communication. The bane of many European "free-improvising" big bands is chaos and murk. The music of Compilation III sounds crystalline. This clarity offers a chance to appreciate the group's individual voices: Orphy Robinson's vibes are set like gem-stones, and Colin Medlock's British-blues-boom guitar suggests Eric Clapton jamming with Eric Dolphy. To go from death metal that out-skronks Sonic Youth to Ist's spectral chamber music illustrates a breadth of vision akin to that of John Zorn, although Fell makes less use of postmodernist citation and pastiche. Fell also dispels another curse of European free improvisation: the fear that composition and post-production must inevitably sacrifice spontaneity and truth. Like Ellington or as with a long line of auteur filmmakers, Fell has learned to make best use of what's at his disposal - a new "jazz pragmatism," born the unlikely town of Haverhill, in Suffolk, England." Ben Watson JAZZIZ

"The segues work very well. It's a very difficult area, composing for improvisors, and Compilation Ill is one of the most successful I've heard." John Butcher JAZZIZ

A Jazz Magazine CD of the year, 1999.

A Cadence CD of the year (Critics' Poll), 1999

A Cadence CD of the year (Readers' Poll), 1999

"1999 CD of the year" Bob Rusch CADENCE

"1999 CD of the year" Steve Loewy CADENCE

"1999 CD of the year" Walter Horn CADENCE

"It's almost like channel surfing on the television but the stations are free atonal music, music concrete, group ensemble jazz, frenetic improvisation, sophisticated urban jazz, ethnic world music, ambient soundscape, multi-phonic sound textures, swing, jazz/rock fusion. The list goes on and on. It's like a parade. Not everything is easily categorized, by the way. It is a dance between representational and non-representational music, between noise and silence, between pretty and strange, between fast and slow, between filled in and sparse. Listen to it with focused attention or put it in the background of your next party. If you walk away from it not knowing anymore about your own musical tastes than before, then I pity you." Glenn Engstrand THE IMPROVISOR

"The third release of the Compilation Series, this double CD contains a spectrum of bassist/composer Simon Fell's revolutionary, complex, and convincing work for small and large groups. At its best, this music has the expanse and stature of the seminal works of Ellington, with sweeping themes, emotional intensity, and stunning improvisations. Fell incorporates post-modern classical techniques, traditional jazz harmonies, and very abstract compositions, played by groups ranging from the trio through huge conglomerations that include strings, harp, electric guitars, bassoon, contrabassoon, as well as the usual jazz band instruments. Fell cites Mingus, Ives, and Cage as influences, and they are all there, but he stamps them with his own zany imprimatur. A major highlight is called Part 3: Blues, which successfully and fascinatingly applies serialism to this art form." Steven A Loewy ALL MUSIC GUIDE

"A mighty two-disc work which, despite its rigorous structural undertow, nevertheless seems like a phantasmagoric improvisation from end to end, where the performers arrive and depart in predetermined but spontaneous ways. Many of the 'constructs' which exist within the piece are clearly organised to the last letter, but only if you want to hear them that way. We prefer to hear it as the lifetime masterpiece by a major contemporary musician - except, of course, Fell is hopefully going to be delivering much more music to us yet. ****" THE PENGUIN GUIDE TO JAZZ ON CD

"In Composition No. 30 Simon Fell shows how an orchestra of improvisers can be organised without suppressing their personalities. What he calls 'xenochrony' - the overlaying of passages recorded at different times - generates new rhythmic complexities, ensuring his orchestra never retreats into generic modernist symphonic sound. His disc is not a substitute for the event but an event in its own right." Ben Watson THE WIRE

"Composition No. 30 combined advanced serial composition, skronk improvisation and xenochronous, overlayered recording with a finesse that staggered listeners." SIGNAL TO NOISE

"Here we have this strange and amazing composition done by Simon H. Fell. This a 2 CD set that is divided in many parts. And on each of this parts we have different musicians ensembles playing Fell's compositions while at the same time improvising. Here we have musicians whose work we have reviewed before like John Butcher or Rhodri Davies and whose musicianship is really well known. Here Fell has composed each part for a specific musician and we have here these musicians playing solo parts, duets, trios, quartets and even octets (really difficult harmonies in pieces like Construct 1). The music has some swinging qualities but the main thing here is the experimentation in this context searching always for new sounds and new atmospheres, expanding the limits of music." MUSIC EXTREME

"The third release in a series, Fell is here documenting on the double-disc release a middle ground between pure improvisation and notation using good-sized ensembles. In development for 8 years, this opus features the Big Band of The Royal Northern College of Music with featured improvisers from jazz and creative music circles. The result has a jazz-like quality that will appeal to free jazz fans." Tom Schulte OUTSIGHT

"The compositions and performance of British bassist Simon H. Fell on this two-CD set may be the long-awaited physical flowering of Gunther Schuller's and John Lewis' ideas from the 1960s. Fell may also have taken those theories even further. Despite many attempts, the number of successful so-called Third Stream pieces remained small. At least that is until Fell came along. Although he would probably bristle at the Third Stream label, the bassist has for many years tried for, as he terms it, "a blurring of distinctions between jazz, improvised and classical musics". The more than two hours of studio-based assemblages that make up this session are his most exciting fusion yet. Not only do improvisers, a big band and a chamber ensemble interact, but considering that there are loud, speedy solos from at least three electric guitarists, elements of rock enter into the mix as well. Plus there's also a bit of tape manipulation and transmutation. While all the parts were recorded live, the sessions took place during a four-month period in 1998 with not everyone assembled in the same place at the same time. Thus there will be portions where a musician will be soloing over the pre-recorded sounds from another section of the suite. Probably the most memorable example of this comes on Part 3: Blues, the creation of which Fell directly relates to the influence of Charles Ives, Charles Mingus and John Cage. With written sections suggesting Mingus' gospel-oriented tunes, the duo improvisations were constructed in a unique fashion. Tenor saxophonist Mick Beck performed his solo while listening to a recording of the orchestra rhythm section through headphones. Synchronously Paul Hession produces a percussion program in reaction to Beck's improvisations, but deliberately without headphones, can't hear the rhythm section work to which the saxophonist is reacting. Beck and Hession are merely two of Fell's long time associates who add heft and highlights to the written composition. Another is contrabass clarinetist Charles Wharf. Often paired with a bassoonist and/or a contrabassoonist to fabricate a concrete-like bottom, when his tone isn't subterranean, it screeches from the unwieldy instrument's highest register. Other standouts include drummer Mark Sanders, whose solo in Part 4: Rhythm with brass and string backing, allows him to ranges all over his kit, sounding crash cymbals, hi-hat, snare rims and a wood block and getting a bongo-like tone from one of his attached drums. There's also vibist Orphy Robinson, who is usually found in less experimental contexts. On Construct 3, for instance he unveils some swinging mainstream style-bar vibrations which nicely contrast with the cymbal on drumstick screeching and irregular rhythms of both Hession and Sanders. Interlude, also featuring Robinson, is a subdued swinger whose vibes-and-bass lilt brings to mind Red Norvo's trio with Mingus or George Shearing's quintets. When guitarists Colin Medlock and Stefan Jaworzyn are given their heads, however, the results differ. In the former case screaming solos often resemble the most high-octane fuzztone creations of arena rock heroes like Eric Clapton and Alvin Lee. For the later, while his Jimi Hendrix-like firepower is put to good use, as in the composition's very first track, by the final number his frantic jazz-rock flat picking has been framed in a context of an orchestral free-jazz blowout, almost the way Larry Coryell was integrated into Jazz Composer's Orchestra (JCO) pieces in 1968. Unlike the JCO piece though, all this happens in the background is one episode of pretty string and woodwind laden medieval sounding music is succeeded by frighteningly intense orchestral sounds that could easily have been the soundtrack for a Hollywood suspense film of the early 1950s. Other times soloists will step out from the big band to play at various time - in one trumpeter's case - bits reminiscent of mainstreamer Clark Terry, hard bopper Freddie Hubbard or impressionistic Kenny Wheeler, introducing either brassy fanfares or delicate half-valve trills depending on the section. Fell, who at various times also contributes a Cagean interlude on prepared piano and some eccentric New music-like harpsichord, doesn't lose his jazz bone fides either. It's his bass line that often shapes both the written and non-written parts of the suite, while on the Trio track his arco sweeps match the miscellaneous percussion soundings from Sanders and tenor saxophonist John Butcher's phrase shifting and split tones. With further notated and improvised techniques, including a synchronous tutti, variations on a chromatic scale, a six chord fanfare and many others in use during the session's 125 minute playing time, musical examination and explanation could go on in a review three times this length. However to fully understand the CDs, note another question Fell once asked in an interview. "Why can't you have great jazz, great improvisation and great contemporary classical music all at the same time?" Why not indeed? He has certainly proven that the theorem is possible with this impressive session." Ken Waxman JAZZWORD.COM

"Serious, grand and 'marvelloss'... I would suggest that anyone who attempts to talk about jazz, improvisation or composition today without grappling with Fell's work in Compilation III is dissecting a corpse without a map of the living body to guide them." Ben Watson RESONANCE FM

"The third release of the Compilation Series, this double CD contains a spectrum of bassist/composer Simon Fell's revolutionary, complex, and convincing work for small and large groups. At its best, this music has the expanse and stature of the seminal works of Ellington, with sweeping themes, emotional intensity, and stunning improvisations. Fell incorporates postmodern classical techniques, traditional jazz harmonies, and very abstract compositions, played by groups ranging from the trio through huge conglomerations that include strings, harp, electric guitars, bassoon, and contrabassoon, as well as the usual jazz band instruments. Fell cites Mingus, Ives, and Cage as influences, and they are all here, but he stamps them with his own zany imprimatur. He seems to particularly enjoy juxtaposing odd combinations, such as piccolo with contrabassoon. Soloists include saxophonists John Butcher, Mike Beck, and Alan Wilkinson, harpist Rhodri Davies, contrabass clarinetist Charles Wharf, percussionists Mark Sanders and Paul Hession, and Fell on harpsichord, prepared piano, and bass. A major highlight is called Part 3: Blues, which successfully and fascinatingly applies serialism to this art form." iTUNES

« Je vais dire vulgairement que généralement les grosses machines me font ch…, mais ici, je ne peux que m’incliner devant un tel savoir faire, une patience aussi méticuleuse, un tel encyclopédisme musico-orchestral. Soyons honnête. Cette musique orchestrale malaxant avec bonheur plusieurs genres et styles musicaux selon le principe de xenochronicity (Frank Zappa) demande des écoutes attentives et répétées vu la richesse des idées et l’audace stupéfiante du compositeur. Un architecte hors pair pour une musique orchestrale passionnante qui mérite d’être découverte et écoutée pour son extrême et unique originalité. Mis à part notre ami Dan Warburton et un ou deux oiseaux rares de son espèce, je ne vois pas quel critique dont j’ai lu les chroniques dans le petit monde avant-jazz et improvisation ait les compétences réelles suffisantes pour traiter un pareil sujet avec honnêteté. C’est pourquoi, je me contente de décréter que si vous êtes musicalement curieux, il faudra bien un jour vous confronter avec un tel chef d’œuvre, chef d’œuvre parce qu’il n’y a rien qui puisse lui être comparable et que sa réussite est incontestable. En outre, et heureusement, on s’amuse ici du début à la fin et que c’est en fait moins sérieux que cela en a l’air. » Jean-Michel van Schouwburg ORYNX


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