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Two of Clean Feed’s best   loved guitarists meet up “Scharfefelder” for a knotty, flinty series of performances based on compositional sketches the pair cooked up in advance. These kinds of exchanges can be quite compelling, particularly with two players so eager to achieve distance from everything even remotely associated with typical guitar duos. They do so without sacrificing their zeal for the basic characteristics of the instrument. For one thing, there’s lovely and quite dense counterpoint all over the place, notes replicating like pixels among the push-pull rhythms, string scrabble, and chiming harmonics of “Branedrane.” But the mood isn’t always antic or jittery. The music is disorienting but also quite reflective, even poignant on “Big, Brutal, Cold Raindrops.” Things billow out, or disperse like a droplet of soap in oily water, on “Minerali.” And they draw out long, looping lines that spool downward as tempo slackens on “Shuffle Through the Restaurateur Gauntlet.” Taken a track or two at a time, this stuff is bracing, though as an album my impression was that it went on for too long. As a whole, something about this music didn’t connect with me, and I consistently found it more impressive than enjoyable. Many listeners will dig this, as on some basic level it’s enough that two good guitarists play well together. — Jason Bivins,   Cadence Magazine

Beckett features the Scott Fields   Ensemble in a tribute to the work of playwright Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). Running helter-skelter and varied with much emotion, the quartet members interact as characters in a play, letting their conversations come and go without restraint. Tenor saxophone, cello, drums and percussion and the leader’s fiery guitar make each composition sparkle with animation. They prefer short, choppy statements that move back and forth from one artist to the next. Whereas most Free Jazz ensembles fit the pieces together in such a way that they’re able to deliver their music simultaneously, Like the script for a play, each artist here becomes a character in the composer’s arena. They juggle their musical lines with such seamless delight that it all seems quite natural. However, the music runs detached and choppy for the most part. While much of the program flits back and forth, there’s considerable space between the lines. Fields’ comfortable guitar remains capable of expressing a wide range of emotion, from quiet inhibition to rage. Cellist Scott Roller fulfills the role of melody-maker as well as providing the underlying rhythmic pulse. John Hollenbeck colors with swirling activity, while saxophonist Matthias Schubert contributes considerable thematic material. Beckett was a minimalist who allowed his work to grow increasingly cryptic. What a perfect match for Scott Fields, who points his latest improvised project in the same direction with much success. — Jim Santella,   Cadence Magazine

This album does not reveal   its secrets easily. The proceedings start slowly and sparsely enough, but, very quickly, we are thrust headlong into a densely packed quartet of intense contrapuntal improvisations, full of long blisteringly fast lines. The occasional rhythms prevail, but they are quickly usurped by further post-post-Bop interregistral runs.

The results are initially exhausting, and on first listen, Thomas Lehn and Xu Fengxia provide the only relief in the form of varied texture. Lehn’s synthwork has always been a pleasure to hear, endlessly inventive and compatible with almost anything. Xu Fengxia is new to me, but her work here is brilliant, exhibiting the best timbral traits of European improv peppered with what I can only describe as touches of pan-ethnicity. Sudden shifts in volume, pitch, and duration make her contributions forceful but beautiful.

Only the final track presents some welcome moments of repose, and, I might add, some of the most intricate and gorgeous group improv on the disc. Long drones swell, shimmer and fade, guitar gliding in softly to obscure itself in saxophone shadows. When the lines return, they are slow, almost languid, the players seemingly more willing to accommodate space.

As interesting and engaging as these pieces ultimately can be, Fields’ playing strikes me as too similar throughout. Perhaps it’s just a sound I don’t like, or with which I need more acquaintance, but almost constant runs executed in a very homogeneous timbral spectrum don’t help matters. The fourth piece in particular holds incredible promise, for all members of the ensemble, and I hope that this group will continue exploring in that direction. — Marc Medwin,   Cadence Magazine

Jeff Parker and Scott Fields   are two of Chicago’s finest guitarists. They’ve each had diverse histories and while their musical paths have crossed before (on the sextet recording Denoument), this is the first time they’ve played together as a duo on disc. Parker has a pedigree playing in some of Chicago’s more unusual ensembles: Isotope 217, Chicago Underground Duo, and Tortoise. Fields strikes me as a more restless individual, working primarily with various musicians (i.e. Marilyn Crispell, Francois Houle, Hamid Drake, and many others) but never settling in with one group. But Parker and Fields, although very distinctive players, almost mesh as one on this set of surprisingly low-key duets. Both can be highly abstract players when the mood strikes them but, here, they sound like two guitarists firmly rooted in the Jazz guitar tradition. The opening section of “Untitled 2001, Soot on Slate” sounds like something Jim Hall might have attempted back in the early 1960s (when he was playing on recordings like Gunter Schuller’s Jazz Abstractions). Although four of the tracks are based on themes, this one is an improvisation. Oddly enough, it has a compositional feel to it. The two circle lazily around each other with melodic lines and dissonant yet gentle accompanying chords. The whole thing holds together nicely. The opening and closing tracks on the disc (Parker’s “LK” and “The Fields Of Cologne”) are also in the gentle, quieter vein. And “Fields Of Cologne” has a truly beguiling melody. But there’s a lot of variety in this program. “Untitled, 2004, Dried Blood On Gauze…” contains some furious scrabbling and some of the most intense music of the set. Yet, even at their most frenetic, Parker and Fields are listening players and never seem to get in each other’s way. Although both players are noted for their use of effects boxes, preparing their instruments, etc., the majority of this disc refrains from that approach. Probably the most effects-laden track is “Untitled 1968, Bing Cherry Juice…” (love these titles) and it has some of the finest playing of the set. Although it must also be said that this track contained some rambling passages that made it go on far too long. But this disc is, for the most part, surprisingly free from endless noodling that sometimes plague the duet format. Song Songs Song finds two of today’s most forward thinking guitarists (who also just happen to be from Chicago) engaging in fruitful dialog. — Robert Iannapollo,   Cadence Magazine

Fields likes to devise purposely   meaningless catchphrases for his music — his latest is “transparent music.” I guess I’ll rise to the bait: that seems to me a pretty good description of his admirably lucid hour-long chamber-trio piece christangelfox. The band consists of Fields (on nylon-string guitar), clarinettist Guillermo Gregorio and cellist Matt Turner, all three of whom also make use of a “percussion array”: four pieces of scrap metal donated by a sculptor friend, four pieces of stone, four pieces of wood. Despite the disc’s striking title, the music is not especially devotional: this is the sound of calm thought rather than prayer. It’s a rapt nocturne — languid and whimsical, full of soft hoots, wistful cries, and flintstone-spark showers of plinks and clanks. Boundaries become blurred: improvisation and composition are virtually impossible to tell apart, and the piece’s even, unhesitating inner pulse overrides the usual distinctions between free time and meter. You hear this pulse most clearly in an eight-minute episode at the piece’s centre that sounds like an anxious, sped-up version of Messiaen’s “Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus.” (Maybe there’s something to the disc’s devotional title after all….) The homemade percussion becomes more sporadic from this point on, and as the mood becomes darker and intenser one almost misses its cheerful, irritating jangle. In the end the piece doesn’t so much resolve as come to rest, the piece’s now-familiar themes restated softly and less surely, the musicians spinning them out finer and finer until at last they break. At times christangelfox recalls Gavin Bryars (“Allegrasco,” especially) or Morton Feldman, or some of the AACM’s gentler excursions, but basically this is completely sui generis. “Transparent music”? Maybe you could call it mood music — though what mood, I couldn’t possibly say. You’ll just have to listen and find out. — Nate Dorward,   Cadence Magazine

I do not want to   spoil the sense of discovery that the listener should get from Fugu. This is quiet, yet dynamic music that compels and invites you to listen. When you do, the results are very impressive. Give yourself time to move into this group’s creations. — Richard B. Kamins,   Cadence Magazine

On the surface, this is   probably the most conventional instrumentation that Fields has used for one of his ensembles. But like a director casting a play, he has carefully chosen his co-conspirators. Formanek is a fantastically inventive bass player. He is on equal footing throughout; flexibly adjusting his playing and interaction to the flow of the piece. At times he is the aggressive lead voice, at others a dynamic sparring partner for Fields. His resonating plucked lines and booming arco fill out what might otherwise be a spare setting. Zerang is a colorist, setting the timbres and textures for the dialog of bass and guitar. This in no way suggests that he is relegated to a supporting role. Instead, he fills out the ensemble with his limber, pointillistic percussion; moving from pinpoint attack to pummeling cascades to propel the improvisations. Fields has a quirky sound, shaping his lines with clean intonation and angular intervalic jumps, at times filled out with a subtle use of real-time sampling to layer multiple lines. The three players use the compositional framework as a motivic framework for elastic interaction full of finely detailed interplay. Quiet, intensely abstract lyricism can lead to thorny, clashing thunder. If one is familiar with the way that Mamet constructs his dialogs and uses tension and release in the development of his plays, it is possible to discern those influences. Though it provides an intriguing layer, it is hardly essential to hearing what is going on here. Instead, Fields has used the sources to create compositional frameworks for open-form improvisation. Even without the knowledge of the underlying basis for the pieces, this trio music is a compelling example of probing group interchange. — Michael Rosenstein,   Cadence Magazine

Scott Fields’ compositional world is   forbidding at best, almost impenetrable at worst. Billed as a double trio and actually recorded ten years ago, Dénouement lends itself more easily to immediate comprehension because of the stereo placement of the six players. Additionally, or maybe as a result, the textures are somewhat thinner, or more accessible,than on more recent releases. The opening guitar duo breathes with refreshing transparency, and when the other instruments enter, it is as if each, aware of his doppelganger, is extra careful not to tread on any toes. The compositions themselves, structures rather than always strictly notated, also allow for more space and silence; simply listen to Nothing had been Wrong to spot the aesthetic. A beautiful bass glissando opens a meditative full group exploration, Kline and Parker’s guitar styles of a piece, even combining with high arco playing from the bassists to eerie effect. The album swings and lopes with downright pleasantness, not that any of the sure-fire improvisational prowess of other efforts is sacrificed — far from it! All complement each other quite nicely in what might be described as a harmolodic journey through structured improvisation.— Marc Medwin,   Cadence Magazine

A chamber music delicacy in   the improvisations cloaks an underlying incisiveness, which in turn cleaves cleanly through airs of pretension. Roebke’s supple bass is the rhythmic fulcrum for the group. His crisply plucked lines ripple outward and surround the music in gentle waves of aqueous support. Field’s choice to employ only acoustic strings is essential to the group’s sonic palette. Even without the aid of amplification, he devises a startling display of guitar techniques, everything from jangling string-bending discord to dulcet lyricism. — Derek Taylor,   Cadence Magazine

Context is the operative for   success regarding Scott Fields’ musical vision. While capable guitarists are a dime a dozen, only a handful compose and improvise in a challenging setting with the consistency of Fields. By surrounding himself with players of the highest caliber, Fields’ group suggests a finely tuned, living entity. This quartet serves as an important reminder of what creative improvised music has to offer. In this case, a nimble musical vehicle with all-wheel drive. — Jon Morgan,   Cadence Magazine

Whether or not a group   later than a quartet can collectively improvise in an artful manner is an open question, even thirty-odd years after the recording of those two landmark albums [Free Jazz and Ascension], but if it is to happen, it seems certain that an imposed structure is necessary to avoid the pitfalls of utter cacophony. Fields’ ensemble does that, for the most part, and while in this particular performance the effect is not wholly successful, this talented composer has given more than a hint of how it may eventually come about. — Chris Kelsey,   Cadence Magazine

Almost frightening in its execution,   this is a trio that creates music of overwhelming density… Even in their freest moments, the group has a high level of discipline and conference. For the most part, the improvisations appear democratic, with the lead equally shared between Turner and Fields. Davis meticulously accents and shadows the assertions of the duo; his shimmering cymbals echo their distortion while the din of his snares and toms enhance the color of the dialogue. Whether it be the slurred, raucous guitar, or the ominous resonating cello, their improvisations are full of textural fervor, resulting in a sound as jarring and explosive as the calamity that influenced it. — Jon Morgan,   Cadence Magazine

When he does solo, Fields   is inventive and accomplished and his instrument enjoys a wonderful sense of depth in the recording. Most of all, the compositions fit the group—Fields is a thoughtful and probing composer, again often bring to mind the late Eric Dolphy in his choice of wide intervals and corduroy rhythms. — Carl Baugher,   Cadence Magazine


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