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Samuel is the follow-up to the   Scott Fields Ensemble’s 2007 release Beckett on the Clean Feed label. Both albums feature Scott Fields’ compositions based on plays by Samuel Beckett. Not “inspired by,” but “based on”; Fields derives his scores (pitches, chords, rhythms, etc.) from the author’s words and narrative devices. At least, that is what the liner notes state. Clearly, Fields is not using these processes as the be-all and end-all of his music, which transcends such preparations. The listener hears little of that in the music itself and, if he or she chooses to bypass the liner notes, will not pick up on it. Fascinating as it may be, these processes don’t get in the way of what turns out to be three highly complex compositions of avant-garde jazz, for lack of a better term. The composed aspect of the music is obvious, even though free improvisation plays a key part in the proceedings: unisons and stop-go cues abound, harmonic material is developed much too subtly and delicately to not have been planned ahead, heads pop up in unlikely places. We are somewhere between the large-scale compositions of U.K. bassist Simon H. Fell (mostly his Compilation series) and John Zorn’s contemporary classical works. “Ghost Trio” has a slightly jazzier feel while “Eh Joe” is a bit more abstract at first, but all three pieces (the other one is titled “Not I”) have one foot in free jazz, the other in non-idiomatic improvisation, and a third one (oh, it’s unique enough to have grown a third foot) in a still little-charted territory of very serious non-classical modern composition — akin to Fred Frith or Jean Derome’s most ambitious works. Tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert often assumes the lead melody, with Fields counterpointing on the electric guitar (his interventions sound random at first, but close listening quickly reveals an inner logic). Scott Roller shifts back and forth between a bassist’s role and a soloist’s role. Drummer John Hollenbeck is mostly playing in free improvisation mode, with short episodes of swing, and a noticeable rock-out passage toward the end of “Eh Joe” where he gets to use the kind of chops his Claudia Quintet is based on. Samuel is not an easy record, but the level of musicianship, composition, and ensemble playing commands respect, admiration, and an award. It is also quite addictive, as each listen reveals new details of the work’s architecture. 4½ stars — François Couture,   All Music Guide

Although guitarist Scott Fields is   the composer for each of the five lengthy compositions on Beckett, the music sounds very much like episodic free improvisations. The guitar-tenor-cello-percussion quartet has an unusual sound. The use of wit in places, along with occasional melodic passages, serves as a contrast to some rather noisy sound explorations. The musicians listen closely to each other although quite often they follow completely independent paths. The final results will certainly keep listeners guessing for just when one is ready to sum it all up as a freeform screamfest, the mood shifts and the band plays a spacey ballad. Listeners who are open to rockish sounds and avant-garde ideas will find this music of strong interest. 3½ stars — Scott Yanow,   All Music Guide

Blistering, ferocious, harsh, abrasive, confrontational— quite often, the adjectives that are typically used to describe death metal, grindcore and metalcore have also been used to describe the more militant side of free jazz. Charles Gayle and post-1965 John Coltrane—two examples of avant-garde jazz taken to a brutal extreme—are not for the faint of heart any more than Slayer or Cannibal Corpse. In fact, some of Coltrane’s most devoted fans have a hard time comprehending his post-1965 work. But the AACM has, on numerous occasions, demonstrated that not all avant-garde jazz favors a take-no-prisoners aesthetic, and Song Songs Song easily represents that kinder, gentler school of outside playing. This 2004 date, which finds Jeff Parker and Scott Fields joining forces for a two-guitar duet, is not about in-your-face confrontation; instead, the guitarists favor a pensive, reflective approach to outside playing. Song Songs Song is far from a straightahead bop album; the performances are as abstract and cerebral as they are spacy and eerie. But they aren’t harsh or militant by any means; nor are they dense. While extreme density can give Gayle and post-1965 Coltrane—or, for that matter, Slayer’s death metal—a claustrophobic quality, Parker and Fields thrive on the use of space. Instead of trying to cram as many notes as possible into a solo, they choose their notes in a more careful, deliberate fashion. That isn’t to say that the two guitarists don’t improvise; improvisation and spontaneity are a major part of what they do on Song Songs Song. But it’s a thoughtful spontaneity—a thoughtful way of exploring the abstract and the intellectual. Admirers of the AACM school of outside expression will find a lot to like about the dialogue that Parker and Fields enjoy on Song Songs Song. 3½ stars —    Alex Henderson, All Music Guide

For this recording, composer Scott   Fields assembled a core group from the cream of Chicago’s improvising scene (with the importation of trumpet ringer Greg Kelley from Boston) to have them investigate his scores that seek to blur the line between written and improvised music. Generally, those lines aren’t too tough to discern, his composed music sounding something akin to the post-serial style employed by, for example, Anthony Braxton in similarly defined works. Unfortunately, there is also a like dryness and whiff of academic orientation in this writing as well; one gets the vague impression of having heard these motifs on many an occasion over the last 30 or so years. The improvisational sections also carry something of an oil and water quality. On the one hand, some of the musicians bring a jazz-like conception that often seems at odds with the tenor of the pieces while, on the other, someone like Kelley, one of the finest and most imaginative players on the free improv scene, sounds constrained by the format, unnecessarily corralled into a relatively narrow area. The group sound itself is usually quite appealing given the range of instrumentation involved, and percussionist Carrie Biolo stands out for her strong contributions, but the lack of expansiveness in the scoring leaves one feeling stifled after the first four pieces. The final track, Medicated (this dog evidently was having a pretty bad day), is another bowl of tapioca entirely. Here, Gregory Taylor has taken taped samples of each musician improvising on his or her own and assembled a rich, fascinating work that goes a long way toward salvaging the whole affair, a gust of cool, crisp air entering a musty room. — Brian Olewnick,   All Music Guide

First of all, This That   is an unlikely release for the San Diego-based avant-garde label Accretions, because Scott Fields has no ties with the “Trummerflora Collective.” That being said, label director Marcos Fernandes took a wise decision to release this very strong CD. For this studio recording, the Scott Fields Ensemble was a trio, cellist Peggy Lee and drummer Dylan van der Schyff (both from Vancouver, Canada) following the guitarist in a series of structured improvisations. This match-up proves to be particularly successful. Lee and Schyff know each other by heart, their chemistry has reached a commanding level. Moreover, Fields’ loose compositions and penned-down segments are stylistically closely related to the projects they were involved with during the 1990s, from Talking Pictures to François Houle and Tony Wilson’s groups. So This That ends up sounding like a cousin of the Vancouver avant-garde jazz scene. Some of these tracks follow specific contrasts, textures, or structures, while others have written heads. But the compositional work usually remains seamless (except for the obvious tutti lines). Fields is in very good shape. His dislocated melodies find a sympathetic soul in Lee’s lyrical cello playing in “That Isn’t This.” In “This Isn’t That” he throws in an impressive solo. This That may not have a star-studded line-up like Five Frozen Eggs (with Marilyn Crispell and Hamid Drake), but it sure delivers the goods — and if you have never heard the free improv unit of Lee and Schyff, this is your chance. Strongly recommended. — François Couture,   All Music Guide

Arguably the Anthony Braxton of   the guitar, Scott Fields is among avant-garde jazz’s unsung innovators. The guitarist, now based in Madison, WI, was part of the Chicago avant-garde jazz scene during the 60s and ’70s and, much like Larry Young brought modal post-bop to the organ, Fields’ guitar playing was influenced by the pioneering work of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). An improviser as important as Fields should have a huge catalog but, regrettably, the electric guitarist has only recorded sporadically over the years. Recorded in 2000 and released in 2001, Mamet finds him putting his spin on the works of playwright David Mamet. Although there are no words or lyrics, Fields was thinking of Mamet’s plays when he composed instrumentals like “Oleanna,” “The Woods,” and “American Buffalo.” But one doesn’t have to be an expert on Mamet’s work to appreciate this excellent release. And, for that matter, being a lover of Mamet’s plays doesn’t guarantee that you will love Fields’ Mamet CD (which employs Michael Formanek on acoustic bass and Michael Zerang on drums). Ultimately, the thing that will determine whether or not you find Mamet meaningful is how much you appreciate and comprehend outside improvisation. If you’re an admirer of fearless AACM explorers like Anthony Braxton, Lester Bowie, and Roscoe Mitchell, you owe it to yourself to hear Mamet — a CD that is enthusiastically recommended to anyone with a taste for AACM-style avant-garde jazz. — Alex Henderson,   All Music Guide

Scott Fields is nothing if   not an academic composer, but he’s a visionary one. 48 Motives is a scored composition that is based on 48 eight-bar melodic fragments. These are built on a tonal system designed by Stephen Dembski of the interaction of two 12-pitch tone rows that are used to construct nontonal scales. It has been simplified and notated for improvisers exclusively. 48 Motives is written for four or more treble instruments in combination with two rhythm units, with at least a bass player and percussionist in each. Then, for the treble instruments, Fields composed 12 motives constructed on 12 closely related scales that were not related to the other three scale sets. Then he divvied them up among the other groups so that each had 12 of their own and four from the other three instruments. Finally he composed a rhythm element, giving 24 to one and 24 to another. Then a conductor uses the American Manual Alphabet as well as traditional conducting gestures to select motives, instrumentation, dynamics, tempo, and more. As musicians move back and forth between motives, the basic stock for their improvs changes. Now, this is all heady stuff, is it not? And all of it would be useless were it not for its compelling possibilities and the way those possibilities are explored by the instrumentalists at work here. And what a group of musicians he assembled. For the recorded premier he used pianist Marilyn Crispell, cellist Matt Turner, and his bandmates — John Padden and Geoff Brady — for a rhythm section, among others. Stephen Dembski conducted. There are so many things going on at once in this music, all of them so instinctually related and timbrally exotic, it’s difficult to nail down any one thing except for the dynamic range that follows a circular trajectory of empathy and force, led by Crispell. This music is magic, wonder, and mystery all rolled into one, and beguilingly accessible. Let’s face it, folks, Fields is a genius. — Thom Jurek,   All Music Guide


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