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Positions & Descriptions

by SFE

  • Compact Disc (CD)

    2011 CD release, in 4-panel card sleeve.
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  • in print: Positions & Descriptions [full score]



Simon Fell's BBC Radio 3 commission for the 2007 Huddersfield (UK) Contemporary Music Festival - 79 minutes of remarkable music by an all-star ensemble. The nearest Simon has come (so far) to realising a live version of his fourth-stream 'compilations'.


released August 4, 2011

Jim Denley: piccolo, concert, alto & bass flutes
Andrew Sparling: Eb, Bb & bass clarinets
Alex Ward: Bb clarinet
Tim Berne: alto saxophone
Damien Royannais: baritone saxophone, Eb tubax
Chris Batchelor: trumpet
Joby Burgess: tuned & concert percussion
Rhodri Davies: harps
Philip Thomas: piano, celesta
Joe Morris: electric guitar
Steve Beresford: electronics, conduction
Mifune Tsuji: violin
Philip Joseph: theremin
Simon H. Fell: double bass, electronics
Mark Sanders: drums
Clark Rundell: conductor

2007 (79 mins.) in 4-panel card sleeve
© Clean Feed 2011

full track listing:
1. Movt. I [Positions 1-4] [16m51s]
2. Who's The Fat Man? [Description 1] [1m17s]
3. Movt. II [Position 5] [4m46s]
4. FZ pour PB [Description 2] / Commentaire I de « FZ pour PB » [Description 3] [6m23s]
5. Movt. III [Positions 6-9] [12m59s]
6. Graphic Description 4 [3m31s]
7. Movt. IV [Position 10] [4m07s]
8. Plusieurs Commentaires de PB pour DR [Description 5] [5m35s]
9. Movt. V [Positions 11-17] [23m32s]

---------- press quotes ----------

"Besides being a fine contrabassist, Simon H. Fell is also an incredible composer, bandleader and label-head for Bruce's Fingers. I always look forward to each and every disc that Mr. Fell releases. For this disc, Mr. Fell assembled an amazing fifteen piece all-star orchestra with a number of Mr. Fell's favorite collaborators including US players like Tim Berne & Joe Morris as well as fellow Brits Alex Ward, Rhodri Davies & Steve Beresford. This incredible disc is some 78+ minutes long and I am still working my way through its many wonders. The liner notes explain at length about the ways in which this work was constructed. However nothing quite prepares us for the multi-layered, complex, ever-shifting mass of intricate sounds. Different groups emerge and submerge in an ocean of different currents. Certain instruments reach up and rise out of the assorted streams, with the occasional short solo providing an anchor between movements. Mr. Fell carefully uses the textures of certain instruments in different combinations. Hence the blend of multiple reeds, brass, tuned percussion, harp, piano, guitar, theremin and electronics is consistently rich and varied. Parts are tightly written with room for improvised solos or combinations shifting sub-groups. For those of us who need challenging music to help us steer through the complexities of life, this is a masterwork that will take some time to fully absorb. In summation, this is a most remarkable disc." Bruce Lee Gallanter DOWNTOWN MUSIC GALLERY

« Un autre projet monstre signé Simon H. Fell, contrebassiste britannique dont les ambitions compositionnelles rivalisent celles d’Anthony Braxton. D’ailleurs, tous deux travaillent le plan de la simultanéité et de l’interpénétration de discours musicaux distincts. Positions & Descriptions entrerait dans le cycles des “Compilations” de Fell si ce n’était qu’il s’agit d’une prestation en concert (les “Compilations” sont montées en studio à partir d’enregistrements épars). On y trouve une architecture complexe, composée d’une partition, d’éléments préenregistrés et d’improvisations libres. Surtout, on y trouve 15 musiciens qui n’ont eu que deux jours pour apprendre le matériel, avant de monter sur la scène du festival de musique contemporaine de Huddersfield. Résultat: l’un des grands projets de Fell les mieux enregistrés et les plus convaincants. À réécouter plusieurs fois pour percer tous les secrets de cette œuvre très dense. » François Couture MONSIEUR DÉLIRE

“Since the mid 80s, bassist and composer Simon H. Fell has been developing compositional strategies for working with various combinations of improvisers, classically trained musicians, and pre-recorded electronics, producing along the way a body of incomparable recordings on his Bruce's Fingers label (he has subtitled these "Compilations", which, in his notes for Composition No. 62, he describes as pieces which blur "the distinction between jazz, improvised, and classical musics, between immediate and retrospective interaction, between intentional and chance relationships…"). It's been six years since Composition No. 62, so it's great to get a chance to hear another one of Fell's ambitious projects. In his incisive liner notes, Fell describes the piece as combining three overlapping elements: a complex score, a "mobile" system of pre-recorded, inter-related electronic elements, and a series of solo and ensemble improvisations. The five-part structure finds room for cycling thematic kernels, real-time interaction of layered electronics and ensemble, inversions of tango and swing, extrapolations of Webern's Variations for Orchestra Op. 30, and, of course, extended solos by members of the ensemble. The contrasting timbres and densities are always striking, the buzz and oscillations of electronics countered by tuned percussion, high trilling piccolo, skirling sax, the clarion cry of the trumpet, the clarinet's rich chalumeau and the seismic rumble of the tubax. Fell avoids both Po-Mo pastiche and full-on assault, instead creating a genuinely impressive musical statement that never subordinates the musicians' individuality to structural concerns. For those who have been following his ensemble music this one shouldn't be missed; for those looking for an introduction to one of the most engaging explorers at the intersection of composition and improvisation, dive right in.” Michael Rosenstein PARIS TRANSATLANTIC

“In an interview with Julian Cowley that was published in The Wire in August 2000, Simon Fell, referring to his then-most-recent large group work, said: ‘I've tried to do the same thing in more subtle ways in my composed work for as long as I can remember. Often, people who are taken with the wild recklessness of Compilation III's broad-stroke collage method are not going to follow all the way to the finer detail if you give them a monochrome version’. In the years since then we have had Compilation IV and now the work under discussion, which is Fell's most monochrome large group work to date. And that is meant as an enormous compliment. Fell's monochromaticism is achieved through a sort of saturation of density, perhaps akin to the way that white light includes all other colours (or white noise all other frequencies). There is of course a history to such a sensibility – it can be found in certain manifestations of total serialism, for example, but also in freely improvised music. As with his previous works in this area, the elements that Fell is attempting to combine are improvisation (both "non-idiomatic", à la Bailey, and more idiomatically rooted, most notably in jazz), contemporary composition, and electronically produced sound. To avoid misrepresentation, I should point out that Fell's monochromaticism is only relative – there is great diversity on this disc, and some dramatic sectional shifts as well, but the important point is that the distinction between composition and improvisation is often so difficult to discern that working it out isn't really an engaging exercise, like it often was with previous work by Fell and similar work by others, but more closely approaches irrelevance - except insofar as this music could only really have been produced in this way. Certain "moves" have become pretty standard in "composition/improvisation" circles and it's impressive how Fell avoids them without sounding like he's avoiding them. That is, he does not avoid them by foregrounding their omission but rather by using them but so deftly that it's only when you really pay attention that you notice how cunning he is. And he somehow also manages to avoid jokes without being humourless – the music is certainly not dour, but the tango that appears in Position 8 is played straight and yet does not strike one as pastiche. Clarinettist Alex Ward (who has taken part in all of Fell's large group works of this nature) told me not long after the original performance of Positions & Descriptions how impressed he was that Fell somehow manages in this piece to pile on more of everything than he has done before, all at the same time, and yet have the thing end up both clearer and more cohesive than his previous efforts.” Dominic Lash FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCE

« Le SFE, seize musiciens, interprète, joue et improvise une œuvre majeure écrite et préparée par le contrebassiste Simon H. Fell, un véritable prodige, absolument unique en son genre. Son orchestre tient de Mingus, Boulez, Gil Evans, Bartok, Mancini, Stockhausen dont les univers s’interpénètrent avec une précision et une intention très rarement atteintes. S. H. Fell est aussi un formidable contrebassiste comme ses concitoyens Barry Guy et Graham Collier, les deux compositeurs chefs d’orchestre de jazz contemporain auxquels on pourrait le rapprocher question filiation. Si ce n’est que l’étendue de la palette et des matériaux compositionnels de SHF frisent la collision et le télescopage, et c’est grâce à son talent exceptionnel et une imagination débordante qu’il mène son entreprise à bon port. Comme la scène du jazz se contente de propositions « grand orchestre » ressassées depuis les années soixante et que l’avant-garde se focalise sur la création sonore excluant des formes rythmées et concertantes, sans oublier le coût d’un orchestre de cette dimension, sa musique orchestrale se trouve quasiment orpheline de public. Un architecte hors pair pour une musique orchestrale passionnante qui mérite d’être découverte et écoutée pour son extrême et unique originalité - je me contente de décréter que si vous êtes musicalement curieux, il faudra bien un jour vous confronter avec un tel chef d’œuvre, chef d’œuvre parce qu’il n’y a rien qui puisse lui être comparable et que sa réussite est incontestable. » Jean-Michel van Schouwburg ORYNX

to see full press quotes/reviews for this album, visit www.brucesfingers.co.uk/catalogue/cf230cdreviews.html


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Bruce's Fingers Saint Dizier Leyrenne, France

Bruce's Fingers is a record label founded in 1983 by bassist, composer & improviser Simon H. Fell.
The label's publications (which also include books and scores) are centred around free / contemporary jazz, improvised music & contemporary / experimental composition.
Initially focussed on Fell's own work, the BF project has since expanded to include many other things besides...
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