Simon H. Fell / IST

Ghost Notes

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IST is an unusual string trio comprised of harpist Rhodri Davies, cellist Mark Wastell, and, perhaps the best known of the three, bassist/composer Simon H. Fell. Ghost Notes consists of several compositions specifically written for the group by other composers, three pieces by trio members, and four improvisations. The latter give a good idea of both their range and general territories of interest: a deep concern for texture and the complex (even arcane) organization of sound. There is a tendency toward the quieter end of the spectrum and an emphasis on the clear but subtle tonal possibilities of each instrument. A superficial listening will encounter the scrapings, moans, and twittering of much contemporary string music, but a closer examination will uncover an unusual, and unusually intricate, structural richness. For example, Fell's "Composition No. 41-Icons" instructs the harpist to "slowly and methodically" play "77 jazz chords in the key of C" sequentially while the cello and bass improvise off those chords, but in a manner that has nothing to do with jazz. The result is oddly enchanting, as the listener attempts to discern what, in the chord just played, inspired the subsequent improvisations. Other standout pieces include a finely detailed study by violinist Phil Durrant that asks the players to improvise from the sounds of sine waves and digital glitches, and "Empedocles" by Stace Constantinou, a delicately filigreed structure with echoes of Xenakis. In Ghost Notes, the harp, cello, and bass greatly exceed any boundaries of such apparently limited instrumentation, and the skills of the players and composers provide an exciting glimpse into a rarely visited but eerily beautiful musical territory. Recommended for adventurous listeners of both avant-garde jazz and contemporary classical music.

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