Alex Ward - clarinet Richard Comte - guitar Simon H. Fell - double bass Mark Sanders - percussion
compositions and arrangements for quartet by Simon H. Fell
"Outstanding. Simon Fell is at the forefront of developing musical structures which release - rather than constrain - his collaborators." Jez Nelson JAZZ ON 3, BBC RADIO 3
"Unmissable." THE GUARDIAN
"A witty, swinging and joyfully audacious synthesis of free improvisation, experimental jazz and modernist composition." LMC
"Fell is one of the most interesting and consistently successful composers working with improvisers today." RESONANCE
"With this two-disc set of quintets and quartets (Four Compositions), composer/bassist Simon Fell demonstrates that his brilliant eclecticism is as vibrant as ever. This may be "difficult" music, but it is also exuberant." Walter Horn BAGATELLEN
"Bassist/composer Simon H. Fell is one of the leading lights of the British improv scene. Possessed with both striking ambition and a bounty of talent, Fell has been involved with a wealth of projects of all shapes and sizes, perhaps most significantly The London Improvisers Orchestra and the Hession/Wilkinson/Fell trio. Four Compositions is another in a series of not-to-be-missed records from the courageous Fell. Utilizing his broad influences, Fell has crafted these statements into a singular vision that is both a challenge and delight for listener and performer alike. If you miss this one, you are missing out big time." Jay Collins ONE FINAL NOTE
"With an ensemble so perfectly in tune with the composer's conception, one would be hard pressed to distinguish the improvised from the composed on these pieces. For those looking for the future of creative improvised music, Four Compositions is a must-have album." Troy Collins CADENCE
"The quartet (Composition No. 70: Liverpool Quartet) pursues the close dialogue between compositional blocks and improvisation pioneered by Anthony Braxton, but is here realised with a finesse, commitment and undimmed personality which put Braxton's recent student bands to shame. Indeed, some of Ward's quick turns - wild humour and fierce speculation Chinese-puzzled into inextricable knots - will have you gawping. Not just important music but a mighty hinge for the future of jazz." Ben Watson HIFI NEWS
SFQ3 is the third instalment in the series of smaller ensembles initiated by Simon Fell in 1999; regularly performing units which would enable Fell to bring his compositional theories and discoveries to bear on organic, flexible groups, featuring some of the finest musicians available.
SFQ1 saw Fell returning to his love of contemporary and experimental jazz composition, featuring a line-up of two horns, piano, bass and drums. SFQ2 was formed in late 2003, and gave their first performance in January 2004. SFQ3 reflects changes in Fell's lifestyle since 2005 - the new group is an Anglo-French collaboration, growing out of his now permanent residence in the Limousin region of central France.
For further information, recorded examples of the group's music, or details of fees, availability, contact:
Bruce's Fingers, c/o Simon Fell, 29 Teillet, 23400 St. Dizier-Leyrenne, FRANCE
Alex was born in 1974, and began learning piano and clarinet at the ages of 5 and 9 respectively. While growing up in Grantham, he developed an interest in a wide range of music, largely inspired by trawling through his parents' record collection. The presence of a copy of Ornette Coleman's "This Is Our Music" led him to investigate subsequent developments from jazz, including free improvisation. As a result of this interest, he went on a summer course on improvisation run by Community Music in 1986, where he met Derek Bailey, who invited him to play at various events including Company Weeks in 1988, 1990 and 1994. Bailey also organised the recording and release in 1991 of his first CD, a duet with percussionist Steve Noble, "Ya Boo, Reel and Rumble". During this period, Ward developed his approach to improvisation, shaped by twin interests in jazz and contemporary classical music, and also through regular practical experience of improvising on clarinet and alto sax with the Stamford-based collective AWARE, led by Brian Parsons.
In 1992, he went to Oxford to study music, and began playing with the various improvisers based there, including Pat Thomas, Jim Denley and Nick Couldry. While there, he met the electronics player Switch (Benjamin Hervé) with whom he formed the duo The XIII Ghosts. Their first CD, "Giganti Reptilicus Destructo Beam" was released in 1995, and featured the aforementioned Oxford improvisers amongst other guests. Its fast-moving collage structure and deliberately misleading packaging reflected an impatience with the documentary-style presentation and puritanical avoidance of evocation characteristic of many recordings of improvised music, but was misinterpreted as condescension and undergraduate dilettantism by many critics and musicians. Amongst those who were not put off the music by the packaging were Derek Bailey and Eugene Chadbourne, both of whom listed it in their CDs of the year.
In addition to The XIII Ghosts, Ward's collaboration with Hervé led to a rekindling of interest in rock music (which had always been lurking in the form of a Zappa-fixation). Starting to write together in 1994, Ward and Hervé gradually amassed material which led to the formation of the rock band Camp Blackfoot. While they drew inspiration from experiments with the vocabulary of rock music (the post-Beefheart/Sonic Youth guitar extensions of Slint, Gastr Del Sol and U.S. Maple, and also some of the dodgier recesses of 70s prog/"art rock"), the aim was always to deliver the material with the energy and aggression of early 80's hardcore. Their debut CD "Critical Seed vs. the Spartan Society", released in 1999, took 9 months to record and embellished the group's live sound with string and horn arrangements as well as studio manipulation.
Most of Ward's writing and playing with Camp Blackfoot was done on guitar, and as the band developed, his interest in playing the instrument became more serious. At Steve Noble's encouragement, he began playing guitar in a freely improvised context as well. A trio with Noble, Ward on guitar and John Edwards on bass released a CD, "False Face Society", in 2001. Under Noble's direction, he has also worked with the Spanish dance company Mal Pelo, playing guitar in performances of their piece "An (El Silencio)" in Barcelona, Girona, Annemasse and London.
In addition to his own projects and free improvisation, Ward has also performed as a member of many other ensembles, including Eugene Chadbourne's Hellington Country and Butch Morris' London Skyscraper. In 2002, two bands with Ward as a member - Simon Fell's SFQ and John Bisset's Pocket - released radically contrasting CDs: SFQ's "Thirteen Rectangles" being a relentless 70 minute composition of extreme complexity and difficulty (in every sense), while Pocket's eponymous CD consists of 12 concise pieces of tuneful instrumental guitar pop. Behind the apparently contradictory stylistic approaches, however, Fell and Bisset share an important characteristic which explains Ward's attraction to playing their musics: both have found exactly what excites and delights them in music and pursue it with the blend of single-mindedness and openness that can result only from such a sureness of aesthetic purpose.
In 2000 Ward finally escaped Oxford and moved to London. Much of 2001 and 2002 were spent tackling the problem of composing for improvisers, and while this produced some material that may yet see the light of day, it was mainly characterised by long hours of staring at blank pages of manuscript in an increasing state of abject despair. Out of this creative impasse, however, emerged a surprising development: songwriting. Ward, who had never had any inclination to write lyrics before, suddenly found in words both the vehicle to structure his compositions and the means to express some of the quandaries and bleak perceptions that had threatened to prevent him from writing anything at all. The resultant CD, "Hapless Days", was finally completed in 2004, and while covering diverse styles including noise rock, dissonant jazz and sci-fi funk to name but a few, and featuring instruments ranging from synths and guitars to banjo and violin, did so with the aim of conveying the character of each individual song as directly and powerfully as possible. The lyrics, meanwhile, address the difficulties and paradoxes inherent in any type of expression or communication (artistic or personal) and the self-defeating behaviour patterns induced by these barriers (whether one tries to overcome them or ignore them). In 2005, "Hapless Days" was released as the first CD on the label Copepod, which was set up by Ward together with keyboardist and composer Luke Barlow.
Ward is still active in free improvisation - the second release on Copepod, "Help Point" was by a Ward-led improvising quartet featuring Luke Barlow, Simon Fell and Steve Noble. Other recent CDs include "Crypt" (a set of acoustic guitar duos with John Bisset) and "Limescale" (the eponymous CD by Derek Bailey's new highly acclaimed quintet). He is also still performing in a wide variety of other people's projects, including the Luke Barlow Band (whose debut CD was released on Copepod in 2005), and a tribute to Jelly Roll Morton organised by Philip Clark and featuring Ian Pace, Mary Oliver and Han Bennink, playing specially commissioned pieces by Michael Finissy, Mike Westbrook and others. His personal focus, however, is still primarily songwriting - the follow-up to "Hapless Days" is already underway, and takes the preoccupations of that album into simpler, more country-oriented territory. Ward is currently performing songs from both albums both as a solo performer and with his band The Dead Ends on the London circuit.
Richard is a guitarist, improviser and composer from France, born in 1981.
As a teenager, he started learning music at wild metal gigs as the singer/ guitarist band leader. He then felt the need to discover some other musical horizons and decided to study classical and contemporary music at the Conservatoire (he was awarded first prizes in classical guitar, chamber music, musical theory and composition at the Limoges Conservatoire in 2002). Then, he carried on with jazz and improvisation in a very open way with the French guitarist Serge Lazarevitch at the Perpignan Conservatoire and he obtained a first prize in 2005. He met and studied with Wayne Krantz during a stay in New York and in Belgium with Pierre Van Dormael .
Since 2003 he's been experimenting different ways in composition and improvisation in bands built up and based on musical sharing and mixing styles. He uses contemporary music compositional concepts and free improvisation, combined with indie rock energy and sounds.
He has produced many Parisian avant-garde jazz recordings (Loreleï, DAD, Q, OXYD, POULS, Benjamin Dousteyssier Quartet, Alexandre Herer Trio...) He also worked on post production and mixing the records of bassist Stephane Furic (with Chris Speed, Chris Cheek and Lee Konitz for E.S.P Records, N.Y.C)
Simon H. Fell
Simon studied double bass under Peter Leah at Batley Grammar School and Huddersfield Polytechnic. By the age of 16 he was playing professionally, accompanying some of the world's most renowned cabaret performers at the legendary Batley Variety Club. He received his M.A. from Cambridge University in 1984, having studied at Fitzwilliam College.
He is best known as a composer/performer in the fields of improvised music, contemporary composition and experimental jazz, where his reputation has grown consistently since 1983; he is described by the Penguin Guide To Jazz as "a very fine instrumentalist (with) a fine technique and a great flow of ideas."
He has been awarded numerous Bursaries and Grants from the Arts Council of England and other organisations to further his performing technique and compositional studies, with the resulting work touring nationally in 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2001 & 2005. Over 100 recordings of works/performances have been issued.
Performing units Hession/Wilkinson/Fell, Fell's improvising trio with Alan Wilkinson and Paul Hession was one of the earliest units to receive great acclaim; other regular or occasional groupings have included the trio Something Else with Mick Beck, Badland, the Brötzmann/Wilkinson Quartet, VHF, Butch Morris' London Skyscraper, Derek Bailey's Company, The ZFP Quartet with Carlos Zingaro and the string trio IST. His own composition-based groups include SFQ with Alex Ward, Gail Brand, Alex Maguire, Mark Sanders & Steve Noble, SFT and SFD. More recently, he has toured the US and played the Victoriaville Festival with a new grouping of Joe Morris, Alex Ward, Simon Fell.
Other collaborators He has also worked in small or medium groups with John Butcher, Peter Brötzmann, Lol Coxhill, Billy Jenkins, Joe Morris, Keith Tippett, Derek Bailey, Han Bennink, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Ellery Eskelin, Tim Berne, Evan Parker, Michel Doneda, Duck Baker and numerous others, plus with John Zorn & Joey Baron (as part of Company) with Elliott Sharp, Billy Bang & Christian Marclay (as part of New York Skyscraper) and with Tristan Honsinger, Cor Fuhler, Peter van Bergen, Wilbert de Joode & Wolter Wierbos (as part of the DIA Ensemble); Simon was also a founder member of London Improvisers Orchestra, and composed for and conducted the group for eight years. He has performed Cardew as a member of Dal Niente Projects, alongside Dave Smith, Ian Mitchell, John White, etc., and has collaborated with the Basquiat Strings. Aditionally, he was for three years a member of the Steve Reid Ensemble, and toured with Steve, Gilles Peterson and Kieran Hebden (Fourtet).
His compositions, in both jazz, classical and 'fourth stream' idiom, have been performed throughout Britain and have been broadcast on BBC Radios 1, 3 & 4, plus UK Independent Radio, the BBC World Service and radio or television stations in France, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Holland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S. He has presented compositions for improvisers at the LMC Festival, the Termite Festival, the Frakture Festival, Leo Records' Unsung Music Festival, Sheffield's Open Ears Festival, Stirling's Le Weekend, the Freedom of the City Festival, the BBC Electric Proms, the Cornerstone Festival and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.
His researches into concert music and 'fourth stream' composition continue, particularly focussed on advanced composition for musicians from improvised music and jazz traditions. He has had commissions from, among others, the Arts Council of Great Britain, Eastern Arts, Anglia Polytechnic University, Leeds University, Yorkshire & Humberside Arts, CoMA and BBC Radio 3. He is described by the Guinness Encyclopaedia of Popular Music as "a leading composer of his generation, crossing boundaries and creating music of a passion and originality unusual in Britain".
His 1998 2-hour 42-piece ensemble work Compilation III was recorded by the Royal Northern College of Music Big Band in collaboration with improvisers drawn from several English cities. His compositions for London Improvisers' Orchestra include Papers, Happy Families, Köln Klang, Ellington 100 (Strayhorn 85), Morton's Mobile, Too Busy and Three Mondrians. Compositions for SFQ include Thirteen Rectangles, Six Bells Pieces and ...the old style.... Kaleidozyklen, his large-scale piece for improvising double bassist and orchestra was premiered (with Fell as soloist) in November 2000. 2001 saw a Radio 3 'Jazz On 3' broadcast of Thirteen Rectangles Version 2, which was repeated in 2002; (the work was subsequently nominated for the 'new work' award in the 2002 BBC Jazz Awards);Too Busy was broadcast by BBC Radio 3 in 2002, and three extended compositions for quintet (Köln Klang, Trapped By Formalism 2 and Gruppen Modulor 2) were specially recorded for and broadcast by 'Jazz On 3' in August 2003.
2005 saw the release of Compilation IV for 60+ musicians, plus a group of performances of related live works, along with the first performance of Thirteen New Inventions, a major solo piano piece commissioned by Philip Thomas.
2007 saw the performance of a concert-length BBC Radio 3 commission, Positions & Descriptions (for 18 musicians & prerecorded materials), at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival; the 18 performers included musicians from the disciplines of contemporary classical music, free improvisation and experimental jazz, drawn from several continents.
Mark`s first musical experiences in the early 1980`s were with left-field rock groups having played with amongst others The Delta 5, Gene loves Jezebel, more recently Broadcast.
Through a friendship with bassist Paul Rogers and jazz music tutor Brian Tueson, Mark was introduced to jazz and free music, by the late 1980`s he began playing on the thriving London Jazz and Improvised music scene.
He played with amongst others, Dudu Pukwana`s Zila and Tim Richard`s Spirit Level and the groups of Dick Heckstall-Smith and Peter Nu.
In the 1990`s he began working as a regular rhythm section with Paul Rogers for his and many other groups including visiting musicians from overseas. Mark also began touring and recording with the groups of Evan Parker and Elton Dean, also starting to play regularly with European musicians like Georg Grawe, Frode Gjerstad, Helene Labarierre, Peter Jaqcemyn, Lotte Anker, Peter Friis Neilsen, Noel Akchote and for NATO records` Jean Rochard`s many projects with Native American, Spanish and Morrocan collaborations.
Mark has played with most of the UK`s major improvisers including Derek Bailey, Paul Rutherford, Howard Riley, Lol Coxhill, Philip Wachsmann, Keith Tippet, Larry Stabbins and Louis Moholo.
He also has popular partnership with bassist John Edwards playing with many people notably in trios with Veryan Weston, Evan Parker, Alex Hawkins and Shabaka Hutchins. Mark also works in the projects of Gail Brand, John Coxon, Chris Batchelor, Steve Beresford, Simon Fell and in the Martin Speake Trio with Oren Marshall.
He has also played with Matana Roberts, Myra Melford, Henry Grimes, John Tchicai, Mathew Shipp, Craig Taborn, Okkyung Lee, Carlos Zingaro, Roswell Rudd, Steve Swell, Peter Evans, Tim Berne, Mark Dresser, Otomo Yoshihide, Axel Dorner, Agusti Fernandez, Johannes Bauer, Butch Morris` London Skyscraper, Peter Brotzmann, in duo and quartets with Wadada Leo Smith and in trios with Charles Gayle with Sirone , William Parker and Gerald Benson.
A member of many groups including ; in duo with John Butcher, `Deep Whole Trio` with Paul Dunmall and Paul Rogers, Alex Ward`s `Predicate`, SPEEQ with Hasse Poulsen,/ Luc Ex and Phil Minton or Sidsel Endresen, and in the projects of Mikolaj Trzaska.
In trios with Ken Vandermark he has toured the UK with Barry Guy and Brazil with Luc Ex.
A long time interest in electronic music has seen Mark collaborating in duos with Japanese turntablist DJ Sniff, Pat Thomas and Phil Durrant, working with electro-acoustic composer John Wall and with Springheel Jack`s many line-ups.
He has toured and played festivals in the UK, Europe, Japan, USA, Canada, Mozambique, Turkey, Morocco, South Africa and Brazil.
In the late 1990`s Mark started a twelve year stint with dub/world/rock bassist Jah Wobble`s groups collaborating with Bill Laswell, Harold Budd, The Dubliners` Ronnie Drew and Lao musicians Molam Lao, playing in the UK, US and Japan, tours and major rock and folk festivals around the world and with award winning `Chinese Dub` and `Japanese Dub` projects.
Mark has released well over 100 CDs, and is a guest tutor in free improvisation at The Royal Academy of Music and on the Music Therapy and Jazz courses at The Guildhall school of Music
some press responses to other Fell composition projects:
"The debate about 2lst-century music starts right here." HIFI NEWS & RECORD REVIEW
"Music of a passion and originality unusual in Britain." THE GUINNESS ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF POPULAR MUSIC
"It's hard to think of anybody in the UK among the jazz-related musicians of his generation.....who is working on this scale and with such audacious inventiveness." THE WIRE
"The sharpest dialogue between composition and improvisation realised by any English composer." RESONANCE
"Composition No. 12.5 is a remarkable piece of work. In short, we have a potential classic here.....Brilliant." THE WIRE
"Some of the most vivid and creative improvisation/composition fusions in recent times." THE PENGUIN GUIDE TO JAZZ ON CD, LP & CASSETTE
" 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 finely variegated and beautifully balanced compositions." THE WIRE
" Remarkable for its ambitious objective as well as the means employed, Composition No. 30 must be recognised as a significant event for British jazz." IMPROJAZZ
"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 Composition No. 30 just make the case more cut-and-dried by the minute." RESONANCE
"The monumental Composition No. 30, is an important monument in the history of late 20th Century music. 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. 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; a modern masterpiece. 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." CADENCE
"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. Composition No. 30 is truly a land-mark recording in contemporary music." SIGNAL TO NOISE
"Composition No. 30 is 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
all photos: © Jo Fell
SFQ general page
return to main Bruce's Fingers index page