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Scott Fields’ music prompts questions,   usually quickly: Where’s the line between the bold conceptions and the meticulous execution? Between the composer and the improviser? Between the jazz and what’s beyond category? Much to the guitarist’s credit, the answers are almost always elusive, as is the case with Samuel, Fields’ second collection of compositions drawn from the texts of Samuel Beckett. Given that, as measured in discographical time, the album comes on the heels of Beckett — the 2006 Clean Feed collection also featuring Fields’ quartet with tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert, cellist Scott Roller and percussionist John Hollenbeck — spinning this more innocuously titled album without making the connection is not surprising. The music is sufficiently compelling to initially keep the booklet with Dan Warburton’s informative notes off to the side. The quartet has an incisive bead on the material; their ensembles are bristling; and their ability to sustain the finely calibrated development of the materials in three contrasting pieces of 20 to 25 minutes in duration reflects an exemplary, collectively honed discipline. Sure, knowing Fields painstakingly ascribed pitch and duration values to Beckett’s texts facilitates a fuller reception of the work; yet, it is not required to dig the jagged and jangling materials. It certainly explains the ensemble’s aversion to lustrous decay; in conveying the bluntness of expression fundamental to Beckett’s texts, their dampened attack and clipped phrases establishes a temperamental continuity that is as essential to the music as adherence to the scores and the parameters for improvisation. This tints materials that would otherwise be more easily compared to the graying generation of Midwestern structuralist composers (although Fields has lived in Cologne since 2003, Chicago is still discernable in his music). Still, the ensemble’s fastidiousness in articulating Fields’ compositions does not diminish the individualism of the players; on the contrary, these are among the more engaging performances to date by Fields himself and by Schubert and Hollenbeck, the more widely documented of his cohorts (the guitarist-like dexterity of Roller’s pizzicato always prompts a desire to hear more). This is another significant recording by Fields. — Bill Shoemaker,   Point of Departure

Premise: What the 1980s were   for midsized ensembles in jazz, so this decade is becoming for large ensembles. That is, the effect that such bands as the David Murray Octet, Henry Threadgill Sextett, Edward Wilkerson Jr’s Eight Bold Souls, Anthony Davis’ Episteme, the Guus Janssen Septet, and Willem Breuker Kollektief, among others, had on the expansion of compositional strategies in an otherwise primarily improvisational format has a contemporary parallel in the increase in large ensembles and an accompanying elaboration on and emulation of a broader range of compositional influences (classical as well as jazz). By large ensemble I don’t mean simply big bands, with their established sectional formation, but a flexibly constituted chamber group — a mixture of individual horns and reeds, a rhythm section that may not necessarily function in the conventional fashion, with the important inclusion of several string players and, crucially, an electronic component. “Orchestra” is the word most often used to describe them, regardless of size, but I propose the term “broken consort,” borrowed from the Elizabethan name for an ensemble mixing instruments from different families. (Realistically, I don’t expect it to catch on, but what the hey.)

…the large ensemble music of guitarist/composer Scott Fields on Moersbow/OZZO (Clean Feed) expresses a more traditional, not to say conservative, contemporary classical demeanor, which may in part be attributed to Fields’ past collaborations with composer Stephen Dembski, who himself studied at one time with Milton Babbitt. This twenty-four-piece broken consort, an outgrowth of the James Choice Orchestra that performed works by Matthias Schubert, Frank Gratkowski, Norbert Stein, and Carl Ludwig Hübsch on a 2008 Leo release, includes familiar names like reedman Gratkowski, tubaist Hübsch, saxophonist Schubert, synthesist Thomas Lehn, plus additional horns, string players, computer programmers, and a prominent accordion (Florian Standler). It should be noted that there is no James Choice, the name stems from a mispronunciation of James Joyce, which is why Fields’ calls his the Multiple Joyce Orchestra. But the music, like the band name, is a product of open-ended interpretations, multiple layers of meaning, and playful responses (it could have been the Multiple Choice Orchestra). In “Moersbow,’” a tribute to the Japanese noise band Merzbow ironically intended to be “as quiet as the musicians can manage,” the sotto voce drones, glimmering and hovering pitched and unpitched tones dissolve into serpentine lines only to end without resolution, a possible metaphor for the now destroyed Kurt Schwitters architecture (Merzbau) that provided the band’s name. Throughout the four-part ”OZZO,” perhaps due to Fields’ modular formats or the nature of the material presented to the players, the effect is of sound masses in motion, congealed from isolated lines. Flux is the order of the day; the harmonic fabric is ambiguously chromatic, different tempi are layered together, passages linger, rotate, stop, and reappear, instruments merge together in common themes and disrupt into broad polyphony or pile up vertically, often colored by jazzy brass growls and saxophone wails. The degree of composed to improvised music is uncertain, but the effect is of a process discovering its own form and concluding as a durable entity. — Art Lange,   Point of Departure


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