Registered Firm SFE Positions & Descriptions

[full press reviews]


"Besides being a fine contrabassist, Simon H. Fell is also an incredible composer, bandleader and label-head for Bruce's Fingers. I always look forward to each and every disc that Mr. Fell releases. For this disc, Mr. Fell assembled an amazing fifteen piece all-star orchestra with a number of Mr. Fell's favorite collaborators including US players like Tim Berne & Joe Morris as well as fellow Brits Alex Ward, Rhodri Davies & Steve Beresford. This incredible disc is some 78+ minutes long and I am still working my way through its many wonders. The liner notes explain at length about the ways in which this work was constructed. However nothing quite prepares us for the multi-layered, complex, ever-shifting mass of intricate sounds. Different groups emerge and submerge in an ocean of different currents. Certain instruments reach up and rise out of the assorted streams, with the occasional short solo providing an anchor between movements. Mr. Fell carefully uses the textures of certain instruments in different combinations. Hence the blend of multiple reeds, brass, tuned percussion, harp, piano, guitar, theremin and electronics is consistently rich and varied. Parts are tightly written with room for improvised solos or combinations shifting sub-groups. For those of us who need challenging music to help us steer through the complexities of life, this is a masterwork that will take some time to fully absorb. In summation, this is a most remarkable disc." Bruce Lee Gallanter DOWNTOWN MUSIC GALLERY

« Un autre projet monstre signé Simon H. Fell, contrebassiste britannique dont les ambitions compositionnelles rivalisent celles d’Anthony Braxton. D’ailleurs, tous deux travaillent le plan de la simultanéité et de l’interpénétration de discours musicaux distincts. Positions & Descriptions entrerait dans le cycles des “Compilations” de Fell si ce n’était qu’il s’agit d’une prestation en concert (les “Compilations” sont montées en studio à partir d’enregistrements épars). On y trouve une architecture complexe, composée d’une partition, d’éléments préenregistrés et d’improvisations libres. Surtout, on y trouve 15 musiciens qui n’ont eu que deux jours pour apprendre le matériel, avant de monter sur la scène du festival de musique contemporaine de Huddersfield. Résultat: l’un des grands projets de Fell les mieux enregistrés et les plus convaincants. À réécouter plusieurs fois pour percer tous les secrets de cette œuvre très dense. » François Couture MONSIEUR DÉLIRE

“Another humongous project from Simon H. Fell, a British bassist whose compositional ambitions rival those of Anthony Braxton. Incidentally, they both focus on simultaneity and interpenetration of distinct materials in their music. Positions & Descriptions would be a part of Fell’s “Compilation” series if it weren’t for the fact that it was performed live (his “Compilations” are studio constructs from various recordings). The 80-minute piece has a complex architecture that includes a written score, prerecorded elements, and free improvisations. The music is performed by 15 musicians who only had 2 days to learn it before walking on stage at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. The result is one of Fell’s best-recorded and most-convincing large-scale projects. This disc is worth listening to again and again to break down every secret this magnum opus hides.” François Couture MONSIEUR DÉLIRE

“The free jazz orchestra has a long and raucous history. This group, organized by and performing a piece by bassist Simon H. Fell (I’m gonna go ahead and guess that SFE stands for Simon Fell Ensemble), isn’t as wall-blasting as the Globe Unity Orchestra or some of Cecil Taylor‘s large groups can be; in fact, there are many sections that are soft and quite beautiful. At the same time, there are sections of this vast (15 musicians plus a conductor, 79 minutes) work that swing and churn like a mixture of Charles Mingus, Frank Zappa circa Uncle Meat, and Pierre Boulez. The whole thing is utterly seamless, though, with no awkward moments, and any listener with an ear for this kind of thing will almost certainly be held rapt from beginning to end. You’re not likely to hear another record that sounds anything like this anytime soon. Highly recommended.” Phil Freeman BURNING AMBULANCE

“Since the mid 80s, bassist and composer Simon H. Fell has been developing compositional strategies for working with various combinations of improvisers, classically trained musicians, and pre-recorded electronics, producing along the way a body of incomparable recordings on his Bruce's Fingers label (he has subtitled these "Compilations", which, in his notes for Composition No. 62, he describes as pieces which blur "the distinction between jazz, improvised, and classical musics, between immediate and retrospective interaction, between intentional and chance relationships…"). It's been six years since Composition No. 62, so it's great to get a chance to hear another one of Fell's ambitious projects. In his incisive liner notes, Fell describes the piece as combining three overlapping elements: a complex score, a "mobile" system of pre-recorded, inter-related electronic elements, and a series of solo and ensemble improvisations. The five-part structure finds room for cycling thematic kernels, real-time interaction of layered electronics and ensemble, inversions of tango and swing, extrapolations of Webern's Variations for Orchestra Op. 30, and, of course, extended solos by members of the ensemble. The contrasting timbres and densities are always striking, the buzz and oscillations of electronics countered by tuned percussion, high trilling piccolo, skirling sax, the clarion cry of the trumpet, the clarinet's rich chalumeau and the seismic rumble of the tubax. Fell avoids both Po-Mo pastiche and full-on assault, instead creating a genuinely impressive musical statement that never subordinates the musicians' individuality to structural concerns. For those who have been following his ensemble music this one shouldn't be missed; for those looking for an introduction to one of the most engaging explorers at the intersection of composition and improvisation, dive right in.” Michael Rosenstein PARIS TRANSATLANTIC

“In an interview with Julian Cowley that was published in The Wire in August 2000, Simon Fell, referring to his then-most-recent large group work, said: ‘I've tried to do the same thing in more subtle ways in my composed work for as long as I can remember. Often, people who are taken with the wild recklessness of Compilation III's broad-stroke collage method are not going to follow all the way to the finer detail if you give them a monochrome version’. In the years since then we have had Compilation IV and now the work under discussion, which is Fell's most monochrome large group work to date. And that is meant as an enormous compliment. Fell's monochromaticism is achieved through a sort of saturation of density, perhaps akin to the way that white light includes all other colours (or white noise all other frequencies). There is of course a history to such a sensibility – it can be found in certain manifestations of total serialism, for example, but also in freely improvised music. As with his previous works in this area, the elements that Fell is attempting to combine are improvisation (both "non-idiomatic", à la Bailey, and more idiomatically rooted, most notably in jazz), contemporary composition, and electronically produced sound. To avoid misrepresentation, I should point out that Fell's monochromaticism is only relative – there is great diversity on this disc, and some dramatic sectional shifts as well, but the important point is that the distinction between composition and improvisation is often so difficult to discern that working it out isn't really an engaging exercise, like it often was with previous work by Fell and similar work by others, but more closely approaches irrelevance - except insofar as this music could only really have been produced in this way. Certain "moves" have become pretty standard in "composition/improvisation" circles and it's impressive how Fell avoids them without sounding like he's avoiding them. That is, he does not avoid them by foregrounding their omission but rather by using them but so deftly that it's only when you really pay attention that you notice how cunning he is. And he somehow also manages to avoid jokes without being humourless – the music is certainly not dour, but the tango that appears in Position 8 is played straight and yet does not strike one as pastiche. Clarinettist Alex Ward (who has taken part in all of Fell's large group works of this nature) told me not long after the original performance of Positions & Descriptions how impressed he was that Fell somehow manages in this piece to pile on more of everything than he has done before, all at the same time, and yet have the thing end up both clearer and more cohesive than his previous efforts.” Dominic Lash FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCE

“A small masterpiece. The ensemble brings a real sense of continuity to the music, which alternates concrete and abstract sections, uses extremes of dynamic range, and passes through jazz, contemporary classical music, free improvisation and tango.” Pachi Tapiz MAS JAZZ

“With collective improvisation, strictly written sections, electronic music, and both jazz and orchestral heritage this record hits the bull’s-eye with its undeniable originality. The overall result is more than convincing: it is enjoyable, articulate, and full of insights into visionary dreamscapes. Valuation: five stars!” Gigi Sabelli ALL ABOUT JAZZ ITALY

“Not unlike Anthony Braxton, Fell seeks to create from the musical languages of modern classical and avant jazz a long-formed hybrid that melds some of the traits of each camp. Fell put together nine performance sections/movements in this composition that serve as vignettes and try (successfully, I believe) to hang together as a cohesive statement. Composition, conduction, improvisations and pre-recorded material come in and out of focus in interesting ways. It is a music to be heard with undivided attention to have an effect. Simon Fell is doing interesting work, this is an interesting ensemble and the piece moves the avant nexus forward several steps. It is worth your time to listen closely to this one.” Grego Edwards GAPPLEGATE MUSIC

“The nine-movement suite is described as “a compilation … incorporating composed, pre-recorded and improvised elements.” With the pre-recorded sequences at a minimum, the tension engendered is between the composition’s notated and free-form sections. Early in the suite Tim Berne’s mercurial saxophone lines create free jazz interludes abetted by drummer Mark Sanders’ rim shots. Later, a chamber ensemble of clarinet and strings echo ornate textures as glockenspiel, vibes and bells jingle contrapuntally and a tubax burps. From a jazz standpoint, Movt. III is the most exhilarating track, with Sanders’ bass drum accents and Fell’s pumping strings leading the band though a vamp reminiscent of Count Basie. In counterpoint, clarinetist Alex Ward produces reed-biting shrieks and trumpeter Chris Batchelor brassy slurs. Before a cacophonous ending, pianist Philip Thomas and violinist Mifune Tsuji output a faux-schmaltzy tango. Preceding and following this, harp glissandi and baroque-styled trumpet maintain the composition’s formalistic aspects. The concluding Movt. V gives guitarist Joe Morris a dynamic showcase for kinetic string snaps. At the same time Fell has orchestrated sequences in which staccato string vibrations, woodwind smears and horror-movie quivers from the electronics arrive in sequence. Taken adagio, the finale involves every musician creating snarling dissonance. Whether that last sequence actually involved conduction, giving top-flight soloists free reign is usually as good a guarantee of quality music as theory.” Ken Waxman NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD

« Réunissant des personnalités de tous horizons (free-) jazzistiques ou « contemporains », telles Tim Berne, Chris Batchelor, Rhodri Davies, Mark Sanders, Alex Ward, Jim Denley, Steve Beresford ou Joe Morris, le SFE, seize musiciens, interprète, joue et improvise une œuvre majeure écrite et préparée par le contrebassiste Simon H. Fell, un véritable prodige, absolument unique en son genre. Son orchestre tient de Mingus, Boulez, Gil Evans, Bartok, Mancini, Stockhausen dont les univers s’interpénètrent avec une précision et une intention très rarement atteintes. S. H. Fell est aussi un formidable contrebassiste comme ses concitoyens Barry Guy et Graham Collier, les deux compositeurs chefs d’orchestre de jazz contemporain auxquels on pourrait le rapprocher question filiation. Si ce n’est que l’étendue de la palette et des matériaux compositionnels de SHF frisent la collision et le télescopage, et c’est grâce à son talent exceptionnel et une imagination débordante qu’il mène son entreprise à bon port. Comme la scène du jazz se contente de propositions « grand orchestre » ressassées depuis les années soixante et que l’avant-garde se focalise sur la création sonore excluant des formes rythmées et concertantes, sans oublier le coût d’un orchestre de cette dimension, sa musique orchestrale se trouve quasiment orpheline de public. Heureusement, il a publié ses travaux en CD et je vous recommande chaudement Composition No 62 Compilation IV – quasi-concerto for clarinet(s), improvisors, jazz ensemble, chamber orchestra & electronics (rien que çà !) sur son label Bruce’s Fingers BF 57. L’album précédent (et double) s’intitule Composition No.30 Compilation III for Improvisors, Big Band and Chamber Ensemble (Bruce’s Fingers BF 27). La liste des intervenants de cet opus est interminable et la complexité des pièces qui la composent et tous leurs enchaînements laissent pantois. 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. Clean Feed publie une synthèse plus serrée et lisible de la démarche de Simon H Fell, et ces Positions et Descriptions en sont une excellente introduction. Notez que Steve Beresford qui contribue avec ses « electronics » gadgets datant d’il y a preque trente ans conduit l’orchestre tout comme Clark Rundell, le compositeur assurant à la contrebasse la charpente de l’édifice. 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

« Que l’on ignore aussi intensément la musique de Simon H. Fell reste inexplicable. Pour ne pas dire inqualifiable. Car si l’on reconnut – et à juste titre – les compositions d’Anthony Braxton en son temps, pourquoi négliger de la sorte le talent compositionnel du britannique ? La Composition No. 75 est d’une intensité rare. S’y échappent quelques clins d’œil viennois et s’y succèdent quelques solos inspirés (les harmoniques dessoudées de Tim Berne, la savoureuse trompette de Chris Batchelor, le violon quasi-manouche de Mifune Tsuji, la guitare contrariante de Joe Morris). Ici, une œuvre importante. Puisse cette modeste chronique servir à quelque chose. » Luc Bouquet IMPROJAZZ


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