|With this two-disc set of quintets and quartets, composer/bassist Simon Fell demonstrates that his brilliant eclecticism is as vibrant as ever. Four Compositions is made up of SFQ1, three pieces for a quintet including the composer, Alex Ward (clar), Gail Brand (trmbn), Alex Maguire (pno), and Steve Noble (perc); and SFQ2, a lengthy suite for the (Liverpool) quartet of Fell, Ward, Guy Llewellyn (fr horn), and Mark Sanders (perc and elec) entitled "Composition No. 70." Several of Fell’s influences are easy to discern. On SFQ1’s "Trapped By Formalism 2" one can hear early Stockhausen (think Kontakte) and middle period (pre-electric) George Russell quite clearly. The two strains—both certainly formal, but one "academic," the other "jazzy"—are braided together brilliantly. This may be "difficult" music, but it is also exuberant. Fell explicitly references both Russell and Stockhausen in his liner notes (he even calls one piece "Gruppen Modulor 2"), but perhaps one shouldn’t make too much of these nods, since he also mentions Shostakovich, Boulez, Stravinsky and Birtwistle as influences, composers I don’t hear in any of these works, (and fails to credit Braxton, whom I hear all over the place). The main point, of course, shouldn’t really focus on from where but rather on where to, and the destinations here are uniformly worthy of intensive sightseeing. We should all by now recognize Fell’s wonderful, if sometimes maniacal, counterpoint from his Composition #30 and his Thirteen Rectangles (of which these SFQ pieces are said to be a subsequent installment). One shudders at the rehearsal time that must have been expended on the SFQ1 pieces. Don’t expect any high school ensembles to be tackling these soon. The gnarliest passages are all handled with ease by Fell’s gang, however, as if they’d been memorized several weeks prior. While the free blowing here is limited, there are fine solos from all concerned on SFQ1 as well as on the subsequent disc. The two main differences between the three quintet pieces on disc one and the slightly later suite that constitutes "Liverpool Quartet" are that the Russell influence has almost disappeared, and somewhat less compositional direction is maintained on SFQ2. The quartet engages in considerably freer ensemble play, but the result is uniformly "classical," except in "GM3 Rhythm" where it’s pretty straightforwardly Braxtonian: Fell’s Russelliana is easily distinguishable from his Braxtoniana, even though both largely consist of wacky unisons vehicles. In any case, the walking bass passages seem to have mostly sauntered off (hand-in-hand with the necessity for 20-hour rehearsals) by the time SFQ2 was recorded. It shouldn’t be inferred from this, however, that SFQ2 is haphazard. It also has a serious, though never solemn, feel. The London Quartet suite is generally more pointillistic than the earlier pieces (again excepting "GM3 Rhythm"), but doesn’t seem more "spacious" for some reason. I find it a curious accident of history that in the "jazz" context, complete freedom has often seemed to result in a higher density of notes than more traditional compositions, while in the "classical" and ea-i contexts, complete freedom often produces many fewer notes per minute than something like, e.g., a Ferneyhough opus. I should point out, however, that, like Braxton, Fell is an absolute master of integrating composition and improvisation, so it’s often quite difficult to guess which (if any) passages are entirely spontaneous creations. Finally, something that may (and, I think, should) also entice percussion fans is that both Sanders and Noble slam together crackling, electrifying solos-- one on each disc.