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Bassist Simon Fell presents two SFQ projects, "Three Quintets" with Alex Ward (clarinet), Gail Brand (trombone), Alex Maguire (piano) and Steve Noble (drums); and the Liverpool Quartet with Alex Ward, Guy Llewellyn (french horn) and Mark Sanders (drums & electronics).

SFQ (Simon Fell Quartet)
Four Compositions [2 CDs]

SFQ (Simon Fell Quartet): Four Compositions [2 CDs] (Red Toucan)
Label: Red Toucan    
Released in: Canada    


"The pieces on these two CDs were originally conceived as two separate albums, being the second and third recorded instalments of my SFQ project (the first being Thirteen Rectangles, Bruce's Fingers 2002). But when Michel Passaretti of Red Toucan told me he wanted to release both recordings as a double album, I was of course delighted - although I wasn't sure in which order we should programme the two performances. In the end, I decided on a chronological arrangement, so SFQ2 follows SFQ1; but I would encourage listeners to feel free to treat the two discs as two separate albums, or the four pieces as discrete works, as their own preference suggests.

As will be clear, the two discs present many significant differences, although there are also links between the two (not least the recurrence of some thematic material). By the time we recorded Three Quintets, much of the material I was preparing for SFQ1 was growing increasingly involved and it was becoming difficult to realise it within the parameters of the underfunded UK improv/jazz scene; SFQ2 was an attempt to bring into being a somewhat similar music, but with far fewer demands on both the musicians' time and patience, and the non-existent rehearsal budget. So for SFQ2's first performance (documented here) I realised a group of compositions which, although still within the language I wished to explore, were less specific than those for SFQ1, and with a slightly different stylistic objective (see below).I hope listeners will find both these recordings interesting, and their different approaches complementary. My aim here has been to explore various ways in which music of this type might be made - but I'm not suggesting any of the approaches documented here represent "the answer"!

Finally, as with any such project, these ideas and this music would be meaningless without the spirited and generous contribution of my collaborating musicians. I'd like to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who appears on this record, and who made these performances possible; plus thanks to Steve Lowe and Chris Trent for the excellent documentation of our work.

The Compositions

Köln Klang was given its first performance by the London Improvisers Orchestra in September 1999. A very simple piece, containing only 12 text instructions, Köln Klang is unusual in my work in that it is semi-programmatic in character, inspired by and partly depicting the soundworld of a hotel bedroom in Köln on the morning of Sunday 5th September 1999, and written on the plane back to London that afternoon (then performed by the orchestra that evening! So sometimes things do happen quickly after all....) This quintet version was prepared for SFQ1 in March 2001.

Trapped By Formalism 2 could almost represent the opposite pole to Köln Klang, since it is probably the most notation-intensive piece in the quintet's repertoire. Its predecessor Trapped By Formalism (for septet) was composed in 1996, and first performed at the Purcell Room in London in June '96; subsequent versions include significant re-compositions for big band and for trio, as well as this new quintet version of the piece prepared in 2001 (and first performed in November of that year). The piece is essentially an investigation of/musing upon the "formalistic" tendencies of post-war European modernism, tendencies which often seem to provide a rich vein of accusation for distressed "music lovers" (and - incidentally - totalitarian regimes....). Built from small - almost aphoristic - fragments, the piece contains many dislocations and interruptions, with the odd unexpected diversion to different (but similar) material, and remains non-developmental throughout. This recipe may sound daunting to both musician and listener alike, and indeed this piece has presented many difficulties in performance; but I find TBF's icy inflexibility interesting and stimulating, although of course it resists the comfortable gratification of more "engaging" music. Although the title was (as far as I remember) taken from Shostakovich's accusers, the piece is actually dedicated to the young Pierre Boulez, who in my own youth I found inspiringly (if uncomprehendably) cerebral; careful listeners with worryingly obsessive tendencies will notice many Boulez quotations scattered through the score. The fact that the composition of this piece never seems to be finished also reinforces its Boulez connections...

Gruppen Modulor 2 is one in a series of pieces which draw on my preparatory studies for Compilation IV (a large-scale ensemble work currently in progress). These studies have included a long series of melodies composed according to various principles (including proportional relationships derived from the works of Stockhausen, George Russell and Le Corbusier) which will form much of the raw material for the finished work. Along the way, several satellite works have come into being, including Gruppen Modulor 2 in early 2003 (given its first performance by SFQ1 on 13th March 2003). As with all my recent work, the piece explores relationships between clusters of notated material and improvisation, "pulse playing" or other notated clusters. But the "melodic" origination of the GM series in general has tended to result in a rather free-flowing approach to composition; whilst the melodic lines themselves explore many different types of mathematical structuring relationships (especially in terms of rhythm), they also contain many free choices. The subsequent combinations and relationships of "melodic" material with "accompaniment" material have also been relatively freely decided, in a manner which possibly brings this piece nearer to modern jazz than much of my work with the quintet; but not too near, I hope... The piece is dedicated to George Russell.

Liverpool Quartet was written in late 2003/early 2004, for the concert documented here. The piece has its roots in a more dispassionate, neo-classical (and less jazz orientated) soundworld than SFQ1, and the writing of Liverpools 1 & 2 and Kandinsky Lines reflects my growing interest in the music of both Harrison Birtwistle and Igor Stravinsky. In particular the ritualistic, inflexible and non-expressive qualities of certain pieces which I had previously discounted have started to exert a new fascination for me; in the context of this kind of composition, improvisation can resemble an unbearably rich vein of precious material, enriching but simultaneously disfiguring impassive granite blocks. At least this was one starting point for this work, and I've found the results interesting, challenging and stimulating - also enjoyable, although I do not regard this as a prerequisite for "successful" work. The use of the two Compilation IV melodies arranged here (GM2 Blues and GM3 Rhythm) continues through from the repertoire of SFQ1, although they appear in a different form. Whilst in Gruppen Modulor 2 I was interested in using the forms of these pieces to generate expressive intensity, here the melodic information is "greyed out" and becomes a series of disconnected arcane ceremonies overlaying and interrupting the matrix of improvisation. So although the desiccated textures and monochromatic intensity of this music may prove disconcerting, I hope at least some listeners will approach - and enjoy - this music in the spirit in which it was intended..."-Simon H. Fell, from the liner notes

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
European Improv, Free Jazz & Related
London & UK Free Improvisation Scene
Septet recordings

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Product Information:

UPC: 777078911766

Label: Red Toucan
Catalog ID: RT 9326
Squidco Product Code: 18037

Format: 2 CDs
Condition: New
Released: 2004
Country: Canada
Packaging: 2 CDs in a single Jewel tray
Recorded at Gateway Studio, Kingston-upon-Thames, UK in March 2003 by Steve Lowe. Recorded at the Bluecoat Centre, Liverpool, UK on January 31st, 2004 by Chris Trent.


Alex Ward-clarinet

Gail Brand-trombone

Alex Maguire-piano

Simon H. Fell-double bass

Steve Noble-drums

Guy Llewellyn-french horn

Mark Sanders-drums, electronics

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Track Listing:

CD 1

1. Composition No. 50: Koln Klang 9:53

2. Composition No. 40.5d: Trapped By Formalism 2 12:41

3. Composition No. 62b: Gruppen Modulor 2 24:14

CD 2

1. Liverpool 1a 7:52

2. Liverpool 1b 5:08

3. GM2 Blues 7:32

4. Quartet 7:44

5. Liverpool 2 6:39

6. GM3 Rhythm 5:07

7. Kandinsky Lines 4:55

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