James Fei

Solo Works
Leo Lab / CD059

James Fei / reeds

James Fei characterises himself as a composer/performer and, like Braxton, to whom he confesses a debt, his music, though composed, is extremely closely bound up with his performing techniques and his own “voice”. These nine pieces all combine improvisation, indeterminacy and notes-on-paper in differing ways, to create a music which is lively, individual and wonderfully thoughtful.

Fei is an autodidact, it would seem, with an approach which is rather personal. For example, his use of circular breathing to produce “isolated sounds in a continuum rather than un-broken melodies” represents an extremely unusual application of a standard technique. It’s these kinds of right-brain tactics which make this disk so compelling; the way Fei separates fingering and articulation into discrete, asynchronised layers in one piece, and then later quotes Stravinsky with a bass clarinet harmonic.


James Fei / Photo: Peter Gannushkin

As well as the more conceptual pieces, there are compositions like “for alto saxophone (4.98)” which celebrate melody over structure; this piece sounds simultaneously deeply indebted to Evan Parker and about as far as one could get from Parker’s poised, often jazzy ruminations. Fei attacks these pieces with gusto, an unfettered enthusiasm which, impressively, doesn’t lead him into cheap “expressivism”.

This will, inevitably, be of particular interest to reed players. For most of the time, however, Fei keeps his eye on sustaining and developing musical interest beyond the clever ideas which support his compositions. There is an austerity here which works extremely well, from the titles through the static, textural nature of much of this music all the way to the plain, rather lovely black-and-white packaging. That detatchment, oddly enough, makes this music more accessible; these are compositions stripped down to a single idea, expressed clearly and simply. Highly recommended. Richard Cochrane