Simon H. Fell

Simon H. Fell Composition No. 62: Compilation IV

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Simon Fell, like Anthony Braxton, sees his compositions as parts of a larger work in progress, and Composition No. 62, an ambitious "quasi-concerto for clarinet(s), improvisers, jazz ensemble, chamber orchestra, and electronics" reflects upon ideas formulated, techniques developed, and musical relationships forged in 1999's Thirteen Rectangles and the "Gruppen Modulor" pieces on the Red Toucan release Four Compositions. Though he favors generic numbers for his compositions, Fell does give a few clues away when it comes to naming individual movements: Le Corbusier's Modulor and Karlheinz Stockhausen's 1957 orchestral masterpiece Gruppen are easy enough to spot, "Lydian Panels" is a clear reference to George Russell, and the Harrison of "Harrison's Blocks" is Sir Harrison Birtwistle (but the title also refers to Birtwistle's piano piece Harrison's Clocks). But despite the modernist positioning, there's nothing dry and fusty about the music. As well as soloist Alex Ward, Fell's band includes top-notch British free improvisers, including Evan Parker, Clive Bell, and Phil Wachsmann. Great performances abound, notably from the pianists Paul Jackson and Matthew Bourne as well as Mick Beck, who explores the depths of the double bassoon on "Contrabassoon Concertino Construct." B.J. Cole's pedal steel guitar on "Lydian Panels 2" is gorgeous, and is followed by the slinkiest, sexiest soprano playing Evan Parker has ever committed to disc on "Mancini Gruppen." Throughout, Fell handles stylistic pluralism with mastery and humor. "What would it sound like if Henry Mancini had arranged the soundtrack for a Hollywood biopic of Karlheinz Stockhausen?" he muses. "Stockhausen Mancini Head" is the answer, and it's arguably Fell's finest work to date.

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