Joel began his composition studies at Birmingham Conservatoire under the father of fusion music, John Mayer. After receiving a scholarship to study jazz guitar at Berklee College of Music (Boston), and self-releasing his first album (The Joel Bell Trio), he went on to a doctorate (Impact Points Between Composition and Improvisation) under new-complexity composer Richard Barrett and improvisation/composition guru Peter Wiegold. He subsequently collaborated with Wiegold on several projects, including joining Wiegold’s group to record several albums, tour internationally and play at in the house band at Club Inegales.
His work has been geared towards how improvisation impacts the pre-written, writing for Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Piano Circus, jazz pianist Liam Noble, Southbank Sinfonia, Juliet Fraser, Atlas and Nieuw Ensembles, an arrangement of Varese’s ‘Amerique’ and a reworking of Elliot Carter materials with electric jazz trio and the renowned saxophonist Tim Garland. Concerts have been in Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Europe and the UK.
He has performed with Lionel Loueke (Herbie Hancock), Evan Parker, Oren Marshall, Richard Barrett, members of Ensemble Moderne, Ellison Ensemble, London Sinfonietta and over 150 concerts with Peter Wiegold’s Notes Inegales, performing at Club Inegales with an eclectic group of performer-composers, working on music blurring the line between the free and composed, in collaboration with guests who span the musical traditions (Middle-Eastern, Asian, Maori) and different art forms (author Will Self, poet Benjamin Zephaniah). Joel has premiered music by Michael Finissey, performed with the BBC Singers the music of Arvo Part (to the composer) and James Tenney, as well as being broadcast by BBC Radio 3, BBC Arabic, Swiss and Korean radio and also spoken about musical symmetry on BBC Radio 4.
In 2012 he began working with the Atlas Ensemble in Amsterdam, conducting and performing his own works in the Atlas Festival. Developing a deep interest in researching inflections/microtonality and improvisation strategies, in 2014 he was invited by several members of the ensemble to study Persian, Arabic, Indian and Turkish music at the Banff Centre in Canada, focussing on the fretless electric guitar. This led to a dramatic shift in artistic ambitions and how he wanted to make music.
In 2017 he made a breakthrough in rediscovering the half-slide technique of Mississippi Fred McDowell and focussed his energies into redesigning his entire approach to the instrument.
In 2018 Joel formed the Gokumi Ensemble as a vehicle to express his new instrumental approach alongside compositional techniques developed whilst working with hundreds of improvisers over the years, which blur notated and improvised and allow each performance to retain a unique identity and aliveness.
....‘Diamonds in the Sand’ by guitarist Joel Bell... Dr. Bell’s piece excelled in combining jazz elements, beat cycles and colours, with improvisational elements... ... good examples of creating engaging crossover works of both Eastern and Western influence in contemporary compositional style, but relying on older forms and musical archetypes to create something original.
-Calgary Herald, Banff, Canada, April 1, 2015, Stephan Bonfield