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Four pieces of Scott Fields   with addition of a fifth piece assembled by Gregory Taylor using soloist improvisations of the members of band, a zigzagging job this, lost between sour and sweet melodies; child of so many outlines, as well as enormous bursts of fire from the trumpet of Greg Kelley. The breaths of the Nperign school become diluted in a series of melodic contortions that are in fact fascinating, creating solutions certainly not new but surely captivating as few have been. Composition and improvisation keep pace with each other, making swells along the way on evolutions—sometimes very much Coleman-like—of Guillermo Gregorio on alto sax and on clarinet, and in a caustic vein that animates and guides the actions of the good Kelley on the trumpet. In truth there is very little in the way of real ostinati, nervetheless, the first track flows a little strangely, lunar, between pursuing winds and percussion that has a ceramic quality; the discourse changes remarkably in the case of Pissed with its structure perennially in the balance between hysteria and moments of apparent calm where the tension is really palpable before falling headfirst into an abyss of dissonance, sort of ecstatic in form; a kind of ritual emigration guided by the contortions of the winds. The following track, Bummed, churns up new phantoms of the house of Kelley, replacing the roughness that more usually characterizes them with a form much more harmonious and round where each instrumentalist seems concentrated in the desire to create a crafty meditative viewpoint. This is a work that lives on the impulses of the musicians but also on their ability to hold back those impulses in favour of writing that’s sometimes delicate and escaping to where wide spaces can contribute to the creatiion of an evocative and oniriche atmosphere without however ever diminishing a good dose of uncovered nervousness. Agitated reveals itself to be the central nucleus of the work with its structure run through, improbably, by the winds and the percussion and stretched strings, and again pauses and divisions in which discords are revealed to exist in order then to be abandoned, in a vision that, as much as it owes to the past seems also to be projected towards the future, but without the slightest pretention. The piece concludes with Medicated that contrasts with the rest but perhaps precisely in virtue of its difference it seems to be perfectly assigned to close this work in the appropriate manner. Cold without doubt, but necessary to restabilize, after the smoothness of the previous movements, the sacred germ of doubt. The final that loses itself in silence leaves us in possession of a work of remarkable beauty to add to the list of things received. 3½ stars — Marco Carcasi,   Kathodik

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

Musique concrète, as an archaic   variety of New Music, caught noises with a butterfly net and pierced them. In a poetical travesty of this procedure, composer Scott Fields and his ensemble switch themselves on and off like a tape, let noise, silence, explosion, implosion, color-thunderstorm and pale nothing succeed one another hard and fast — or weave concrete things into one another, images which come up, overlap, discolor, change. Everything is hand-made and mouth-blown, everyone is a juggler, amply gifted to wake up illusions and re-extinguish them. Shadow-voice behind the clarinet becomes hectic breath, becomes railroad, uncanny in approaching, as in effacing its own decipherment. It is a dream wherein the unbiased eye sees symbols, signals, signs all in off-shades, restlessly moved, pulled by invisible strings. Pictographs arise like suns: glassy swimming desert-flowers of vibraphone and crotales, cheeky siren-glissandi with which the oboe — unappreciated princess of jazz-instruments — plays the trumpet…

A winter-cold epilogue though — as if logic was not allowed to remain without a punch line — throws a net over the sounds after all: electronic mirage constructs the decay of color and outline. Fogs are lifting, threatening, clearing up — and Scott Fields’ thrashing guitar sound emerges; echo of rage, naked king in the heath. — seven boxes (highest rating) Michael Herrschel,   Neue Musikzeitung

“The best plan for listening   to this music is to treat it as a whole rather than worry about what came from where,” writes Chicago-born guitarist Scott Fields of this five-movement suite (if you’re interested in the title, check out the scrambled eggs on Fields’ website, www.scottfields.com) featuring Fields himself, Carrie Biolo on pitched and unpitched percussion, Guillermo Gregorio on alto sax and clarinet, Kyle Bruckmann on oboe and English horn and Greg Kelley on trumpet. The first four movements (“Conflicted”, “Pissed”, “Bummed” and “Agitated”) also require a conductor (Stephen Dembski), whereas the finale (“Medicated”) was constructed by Greg Taylor using Max/MSP software to work on solo improvisations by the ensemble members. Rossbin regulars expecting another helping of austere, spare improvisation (the label has released excellent and highly acclaimed work by Annette Krebs, Andrea Neumann, Toshi Nakamura, not to mention Greg Kelley’s second solo album) are in for a surprise; in both instrumentation and structure, this has more in common with Varése and Birtwistle than it does with Taku Sugimoto. Fields intentionally blurs the distinction between composed and improvised material in accordance with the fine AACM tradition he grew up with, with the result that “FTDODD” joins the 4CD Rastascan box set of Anthony Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music and Masashi Harada’s 1999 “Condanction Ensemble” as another great example of top-notch improvisors bringing their skills to bear on material of a more composed / structured nature. Bruckmann and Gregorio have plenty of opportunities to showcase their outstanding multiphonics, and those familiar with the extraordinary sonorities Kelley can summon from his trumpet on his solo recordings will be duly impressed by his mastery of Fields’ arching melodic lines. After the swirling, snarling tour de force of “Pissed”, “Bummed” is a wondrous, strange, bassless landscape inhabited by muffled plunks from Biolo’s xylophone and Fields’ nylon-string guitar and plaintive wails from the wind instruments. “Agitated”, despite its title, is a decidedly fresh flowing tangle of delicately scored melodic lines, before Fields stands aside in the final movement to allow Greg Taylor to extract tissue samples of solo material and subject them to cold laboratory scrutiny with his Max/MSP software. The resulting music is, like the entire album, intriguing and impressive, if a little frosty and detached. Of course, hardcore improv snobs will dismiss it as too composed and aficionados of the likes of Ferneyhough and Finnissy will probably find it too loose, but that’s the risk you run if you want to set up shop in this particular no man’s land. However, as this album demonstrates time and again, far from being barren wasteland between two frontier checkpoints, the territory in question is bursting with miraculous new life forms. — Dan Warburton,   Paris Transatlantic Magazine and Signal to Noise

Bow wow. Woof woof. Give   this critic a melody. Yip yip. Arf arf. This old man wishes Scott Fields had stayed home. On this recording “composer” and “guitarist” Fields again lifts his leg on you, the listener. Fields and his littermates —brass jockey Greg Kelley, oboemann Kyle Bruckmann, squeaky-toy specialist Carry Biolo, computer programmer Gregory Taylor, and Italian woodwind-wielder Guillermo Gregorio—have broken loose from their leashes, in spite of the presence of alleged conductor Stephen Dembski. One would think—nay, pray—that choo-choo chief Dembski could teach these new dogs a few old tricks, but throughout it is clear that these pups are barely paper trained. If only Fields had provided proper positive reinforcement, a tasty treat here and there to reward the musician and ultimately the CD-purchasing public. But where there should be swing, these mongrels rock ‘n’ roll over and play dead. Where there should be harmony, there is a cacophony of howls and whimpers. Luscious tone is hiding in the basement, replaced with distressed scratching and panting. Grrrrrrrrrrr. My recommendation? Do not buy this little doggie in the window. And if one is left on your doorstep, take it to the pound to have it “put to sleep” as indeed will be the fate of anyone who adopts this homely mongrel. — Hugh Jarrid,   Swingin’ Thing Magazine

“My name would be ‘Dog   Drexel,’” confides guitarist Scott Fields in his online biography, explaining the title. From the Diary of Dog Drexel comprises four compositions called “Conflicted,” “Pissed,” “Bummed,” and “Agitated.” You might justifiably conclude that Fields has concocted a grungy soundtrack to an imagined life of sleaze. But you’d be wrong, though it’s certainly fraught with tension and brittle attitude. Evolved from the system of generating non-tonal scales Fields has worked with since entering the orbit of composer Stephen Dembski, this harmonically ambivalent music often evokes unease.

Dembski conducts a quintet featuring Fields on electric and nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, Greg Kelley on trumpet, Guillermo Gregorio on alto sax and clarinet, Kyle Bruckmann on oboe and English horn and Carrie Biolo on vibraphone, marimba, crotales, and unpitched percussion. There’s a cut-glass feel to the ensemble: multifaceted, hard-edged, and refractive. Luminous with the shimmer of vibes, they can sour when the reeds clash, defiant when the trumpet asserts itself, or angry and threatening when Fields’s guitar growls and lashes out.

A fifth track, “Medicated,” is credited to all five players plus Gregory Taylor who processed materials from their improvising. Its meltdown of definition into more fundamental ambivalence, volatile temperaments, and even the remnants of Fields’s spiteful soloing, dosed and deliquescing into computer-generated numbness, make for a fitting conclusion. — Julian Cowley,   The Wire

Scott Fields is yet another   musician interested in melting the boundaries between so-called jazz and so-called classical music.

He’s usually identified with the free music side of things through recorded and other sessions with the likes of bassist Michael Formanek, percussionist Michael Zerang, clarinetist Fran¨ois Houle and drummer Hamid Drake. Yet the Madison, Wis.-based guitarist also has advanced a method by which chamber ensembles like the one on this carefully designed CD can develop extended improvisations.

Seemingly a close cousin to Butch Morris’s theory of conduction, Field’s process is built on a tonal system that Stephen Dembski, a University of Wisconsin-Madison music professor, who conducts the quintet here, developed. The American Manual Alphabet and traditional conducting gestures are used by the conductor to select from melodic fragments. Then, as musicians switch between motives, the basic materials for their improvisations — primarily 48 non-linear scales upon which the motives and gestures are built, plus the underlying feel — also change.

What results, at least on this CD, is five examples of abstruse, unconventional chamber music. Truthfully though, the outcome doesn’t sound that dissimilar from other small group, classically oriented pieces for strings, horns and percussion developed by improvisers who haven’t advanced specially designated theories. Additionally, although all the disc’s acrimonious-sounding song titles are Fields’s — who admits that “my porn name would be ‘Dog Drexel,’” as are the first four compositions, this is still overall, ensemble work.

Naming his band in homage to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the guitarist’s playing partners get the space within which to forge their own lines. Interestingly not one has much hard-core jazz background. Clarinet and alto saxophonist Guillermo Gregorio’s history of experimentation stretches from his beginnings in Buenos Aires to his present residency in Chicago. Right now he works with similar committed players like cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and Carrie Biolo, who is also on this disc. Percussionist Biolo who has recorded the formal music of Cornelius Cardew and Anthony Braxton has also toured with eccentric guitarist Eugene Chadbourne. Another associate of Lonberg-Holm and Zerang, not to mention Gregorio, oboist and hornist Kyle Bruckmann describes himself as a freelance classical musician.

Conservatory-trained trumpeter Greg Kelley sometimes plays free jazz with veterans like saxophonist Paul Flaherty and Braxton, but spends most of his time exploring the outer limits of textures created by his horn. He has released two notable solo CDs and often performs with other Boston-centred sonic explorers like saxophonist Bhob Rainey.

Kelley’s extended technique gets a suitable showcase on “Conflicted,” its polyrhythmic texture expanded to a longer form than on the other tracks. Advancing to triple tonguing from primary tones that morph between those of a baroque piccolo trumpet and breathy intervals, the initial theme is advanced by unison clarinet and vibes. As well, Bruckmann’s English horn articulates the instrument’s standard tone, but much tarter and sharper than classical types would expect. Eventually Gregorio’s alto saxophone and Fields’s nylon-string guitar alternate long lines until a harmonic blend of most of the instruments nearly create liturgical organ chords. Staccato pitch sliding arising from horn trills, trumpet blasts and harsh electric guitar fills soon turns repetitive mirroring the title, as feedback-laden licks presage a whining horn vamp gradually dissolving into silence.

“Pissed,” the shortest — at less than 8½ minutes — track is also the only other piece to truly reflect its appellation. It’s noisy, with smeared splutter from the trumpeter contrasting with woodwinds’ multiphonics and some metallic tone slivers from the vibes. Then discordant electric guitar notes join with the oboe to goose the theme into a higher pitch. At this point, Kelley seems to be fully inhabiting his horn, blaring as he comes up with balloon inflation sounds that mix with unpitched percussion hocketing and rococo horn lines.

Although longer, “Bummed” and “Agitated” may revolve around a shifting tonal centre and highlight conflicting musical patterns, but by this points the smears and multiphonics have been expected, like the sound of a pooch whose bark is worse than his bite. As a matter of fact, the edgy wooden-sounding percussion, legato oboe tones and resonant Hawaiian guitar allusion on the former and quieter vibes and nylon-string plucks on the later seem to suggest unified forward motion rather than polyrhythmic exploration. The adjective “pleasant” even comes to mind. It’s almost as if what you though was a ferocious junkyard hound has been revealed as a fluffy lap dog.

Metallic as all get out, “Medicated” — poor puppy Drexel — while notable on its own seems to be in variance with the other tracks. Software-constructed from Ensemble solo improvisations by Gregory Taylor, the result is wiggles, whooshes, whistles and multi-tonal echoes that can probably be linked to reed blasts, tingling bells and outer- space rockabilly guitar licks. Including what appears to be tapes running backwards creating voices like David Seville’s Chipmunks, the piece builds up to electronic drones and ends with a reverberating vibe note.

Taken together the entire project is satisfying, though not outstanding. If the pseudo-electronica had been dispensed with and more emphasis put on toughening up the initial polyrhythmic invention, things would have been more striking. Right now, though, it can satisfy many — especially those following the saga of Fields’s ever-changing Ensemble — and suggest new interest in what else the guitarist can create as a composer. — Ken Waxman,   Jazz Weekly and Jazz Word

Over the years, Fields has   been a kind of one-man avant-garde, doing a variety of original work in Madison, Wisconsin, and this album continues his mission with the usual humane understatement. A goal of the first four movements of this five-movement piece is to blur the distinction between written and improvised music. During those movements, at least one written part and one improvised part is steadily played by two of the album’s five musicians — Fields on guitar, Carrie Biolo on vibes, marimba and unpitched percussion, Guillermo Gregorio on alto sax and clarinet, and Greg Kelley on trumpet — while the remaining three either improvise or play written music, constantly shifting the balance between the two. The fifth movement, composed by Gregory Taylor, uses Cycling 74’s Max/MSP software to blend and processes the solo work of each ensemble member.

Overall, the results are pleasingly low-keyed, with all sorts of unusual colors and textures being produced. There’s a lot of contrapuntal work here, but the musicians stay out of each other’s way, making their work easy to follow. But that doesn’t make it shallow. B PLUS — Harvey Pekar,   Urban Dialect

Recorded in a strange, hollow   ambience, this is a spirited if ill-tempered sequence of group pieces, with a coda where the ensemble members each played solos which were then doctored by Gregory Taylor’s software into a droning, rattling track that sounds somewhat like old musique concrète. Unfathomable. Three stars (of four). —    Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, seventh edition