Simon H. Fell
|Genres||Free improvisation Experimental jazz|
|1970s - present|
Simon H. Fell (b. Dewsbury, Yorkshire, 13 January 1959) is a bassist and composer; he is primarily known for his work as a free improviser and the composer of ambitiously complex post-serialist works.
Fell began playing double bass in 1973. From 1978 to 1981 he read English Literature at Fitzwilliam College of Cambridge University, an interest that led to ties to many of the poets associated with the Cambridge scene (a later work, Music for 10(0), involves settings of texts by the poet/music journalist/provocateur Ben Watson).
Fell's most notable early group was a group with drummer Paul Hession and saxophonist Alan Wilkinson, a free-jazz trio that was exceedingly fast and furious even by the standards of that genre. Their work was primarily released as cassettes and CDs on Fell's label Bruce's Fingers, including Bogey's and the group's only studio album, foom! foom! Their most sonically extreme statement, however, was the grainily recorded The Horrors of Darmstadt (Shock). (Its title is a sarcastic quotation from a BBC announcer concerning the avant-garde Darmstadt School of composers.)
Other groups in which Fell is or was a member include the free jazz trio Badland (led by saxophonist Simon Rose; initially the drummer was Mark Sanders, with Steve Noble subsequently taking over the role), the improvising string+percussion ensemble ZFP (with Carlos Zingaro, Marcio Mattos and Mark Sanders), and SFQ, a quartet/quintet with changing membership, though clarinettist Alex Ward has been a constant. (Fell's 2001 version of his 70-minute SFQ composition Thirteen Rectangles was broadcast twice by the BBC and subsequently nominated for the 'new work' award in the 2002 BBC Jazz Awards.) In sharp contrast to the uproar of Hession/Wilkinson/Fell, the trio IST (with Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell) was one of the seminal groups in the development of the ultra-quiet aesthetic now generally called "EAI" or "electroacoustic improvisation". Fell has also performed in many other ensembles, including the London Improvisers Orchestra and Derek Bailey's Company Week.
Fell's major sequence of compositions is titled Compilation (to date, four such projects have been issued). Despite the governing title, these are not collections of previous material but new, large-scale works. The musical language makes overt use of serialist procedures (such as tone rows, retrograde structures, &c), as well as many other techniques: extensive studio layering, overdubbing and reordering of material (so that seemingly "live" performances may be the result of carefully edited-together improvisations and/or notated material), and use of aleatoric techniques to "degrade" or distort precomposed structures into new shapes. Free improvisation, rock and jazz all form key parts of the musical language; one section of Compilation IV even includes a simultaneous hommage to Karlheinz Stockhausen and Henry Mancini. The cast of musicians drawn on for these pieces usually includes a mix of classically trained players, jazzers and free improvising musicians, as well as wild cards like the noise guitarist Stefan Jaworzyn. While virtuoso players such as Evan Parker and John Butcher are essential to the projects, Fell often deliberately makes use of amateur or student musicians, too, not as a makeshift but as an intentionally democratizing and less predictable element.
Other large-scale composition projects include:
Hession / Wilkinson / Fell