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Company: Company in Marseille

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Company in Marseille features the same U.K. contingent guitarist Derek Bailey assembled last April in New York: harpist Rhodri Davies, cellist Mark Wastell, bassist Simon H. Fell and tap dancer Will Gaines. Comprised mainly of duos and trios (there are two lengthy quintet tracks; but even they contain substantial passages where one or more musicians lay out), this two-CD set spans hallowed quietude to raucous ravings. Given the recent ascent of London-based string ensembles such as Cranc (featuring Davies) and Quatuor Accorde (with Wastell), which approximate contemporary music contours through improvisation, it is interesting to hear Davies and Wastell deal with Bailey’s jagged edges, Fell’s propulsive fury and Gaines’ often giddy tapping. Fell’s presence is also intriguing in that he is one of the most formidable emergent composers of any stripe in the U.K.; his technical boldness is leavened by a deliberate sense of design that is best heard in his duos with Bailey and Gaines. Still, despite the autonomy fostered by Bailey, the others coalesce around him whenever he plays. When Bailey stirs things up, the sounds fly like shrapnel; when he lowers the temperature, particularly with harmonics, he induces a calm lucidity among his cohorts. Even in a democracy, someone must lead; on Company in Marseilles, Bailey once again shows how it’s done.