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Guitarists Jeff Parker and Scott   Fields’ Song Songs Song (Delmark) is about as experimental as it gets on a domestic label. The duo utilizes feedback, distortion, samples, snippets, loops, wah-wah and many other things on a program of material that doesn’t follow any discernible pattern. Sometimes it is uncanny, other times rather incomprehensible, but it is always challenging and intriguing. “The Fields of Cologne” and “LK 92” are the two shortest pieces and come closest to containing conventional devices as a set (or at least recognizable) melody, middle section and conclusion. Otherwise, the pair blurs and obliterates notions about soloists and accompanists, switches places at unexpected times, fades in and out of pieces, varies the volume in unusual sequences and offers a work that can be enthralling, confusing and annoying, sometimes all at once. — Ron Wynn,   Nashville City Paper

This strange electric guitar duo   recording is perhaps one the oddest and most un-jazz-like of the vast Delmark catalogue, which mostly deals with jazz and blues dates from the fifties onwards. Chicago-based Jeff Parker does have some jazz credentials, playing with the Chicago Underground and Fred Anderson, yet he can’t really be pegged as most of the current Chicago underground continues to pursue diversity and unpredictability. Wisconsin based Scott Field is also a great improviser, as well as a unique composer, his more than a dozen releases also embrace diverse approaches and an ever-changing cast of players to work with. Each of the six pieces here also cover a variety of approaches. Jeff’s “LK” is a calm, haunting and even jazz-like in its rather melodic guitar tone, it is a sort of ballad that is quietly deconstructed as it evolves. “Untitled, 1968” sounds like it could be Fred Frith and Henry Kaiser (maybe a Dead space jam?), with all those volume pedal swirls, free yet focused noise sections, but never going too far out. By “Untitled, 2004,” they start to go further out, faster, freer and more intense, but never losing sight of each other as they work together, trading ideas and licks, suspending time as they weave lines together into one sound/blend. “Untitled, 2001” has both Jeff and Scott playing with that warm, relaxed jazz guitar tone, Les Paul meets Joe Pass? Actually, they move through a variety of approaches quickly, casting off one idea after another. “Untitled, 1955” is a long work that again shows a quite a bit of unorthodox techniques, twisted harmonies, intricate noise-work, both subtle and intense abstractions, q and a sections, quickly tapped harmonics, alien textures and some nice quiet and spooky moments. Jeff Parker and Scott Fields work quite well together, combining forces and blending their sound into one story-like journey. In a blindfold test, most folks would have little clue who they really are listening to. —   Downtown Music Gallery

Quite possibly one of the   most adventurous records yet to emerge from the highly respected jazz and blues label, Delmark, Song Songs Song pushes the limits of what can easily be considered traditional jazz improvisation. Jazz guitarists Jeff Parker and Scott Fields play with and against each other in a studio session that will certainly be remembered for its risk taking elements. Guitarist Jeff Parker, known for his work with numerous projects including Tortoise, Isotope 217, The Chicago Underground pairs up with Scott Fields, a free jazz guitarist and composer who has hovered around the avant garde jazz scene since the late 1960’s. These two play a sequence of pieces that run from the melodic to the downright dissonant. Book ended by Parker’s more delicate pastoral pieces, the bulk of the record finds the two guitarists in stop and go pointillistic free debate. Volume pedal swells, scraped strings and distorted chromatic runs all fly by as the guitarists play an endless game of cat and mouse. Melodic fragments emerge from the pieces, but are just a quickly discarded to explore more textural territory. Call and response improvisation is the conceptual backbone of this session. One can almost visualize the two sitting side by side copying runs from one another, then abstracting them, before turning them inside out and playing them back again. Not an easy listen for those with pre-conceived notions of what jazz improvisation should sound like, Song Songs Song is a brave release on Delmark’s part and makes for perfect blindfold test material. Play this one for your guitar geek friends and see if they can guess even one of the players. —   Troy Collins, Junk Media

On any recording that pairs   players of like instruments, the primary duty to the listener is to serve as a device in which the ability of each musician can be judged, a forum for finding who plays best, who wins and who loses, who is the better man. How else can real, relevant ranks be established? But Windy City label Delmark this time blows a foul new sound in stereo guitars and as such presents what its crew of producers and A&R men must have thought a practical joke of blustery subtlety. Well this critic is not amused. Where the packaging should be informative, it is just as lazy as a summer wind. The label’s high command commits a Nuremberg’s worth of crimes against all CD consumers. First of all they leave the curious reader blowin’ in the wind, unable to tell one track from another, since these windburnt bureaucrats didn’t even see fit to include titles for the inner four “songs” on this song-parched Frisbee of acrylic and laser dimples. The next disappointment is the substitute for comprehensible liners notes with a monsoon of unrelated and meaningless words. But what turns this wayward wind of inconsideration into a presidentially declared disaster area of thoughtlessness is Delmark’s decision to jettison identification of which “musician” is playing on which channel. Judgments as to historical context, racial tendencies, and plain old chopsmanship are rendered near impossible without clear delineation of roles and responsibilities. Instead of paying a competent typographer to set a simple sentence of x = right channel, y = left channel, the label’s leaders leave little leads as to which guitar slinger is slinging where (subliminal, no doubt, since these louts heap scant care on the very lifeblood of their business: CD-buying individuals). Careful inspection of the packaging revels several clues, however. First of all, there is the cover photograph, which shows Jeff Parker on the left and Scott Fields on the right (perhaps also reflecting their political leanings). Turning the jewel box a single rotation reveals a second, smaller photograph on the CD’s rump. Again Parker is on the left and Fields is on the right. Returning to the front cover, Parker’s name is on the left and Fields’ is on the right, defying all alphabetical convention. On the rear, Parker’s name is again left and Fields’ right. This pattern, in fact, recurs wherever the names appear side by side. It is clear that this wind cries Parker left channel, Fields right. With that knowledge established firmly in mind, Delmark’s smokescreen clears on the epic battle between Parker’s solid jazz credentials (think Charles “The Yardbird” Parker or Maceo Parker more so than William Parker or, least of all, Evan Parker) and Fields’ wet-behind-the-ears eagerness but inability to please patina. Now the listener can see who is where. Parker grooves; Fields ruts. Parker swings; Fields dangles. Parker burns; Fields flickers like a candle in the wind. Nothing would please me more than to say Parker prevails. But in the end Fields’ demons destroy whatever musical content once lurked in channel left, leaving these Song Songs Song, Wrong Wrongs Wrong. — Hugh Jarrid,   Swingin’ Thing Magazine

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

Parker and Fields’ freeform soundscapes   are by turns disturbing and disarming. Fretting and bowing their instruments and blending samples with extraneous sounds, the dialog between their electric guitars moves from elation to hallucinatory. —   Vintage Guitar Magazine

Song Songs Song finds Fields   and Parker claiming quite a bit of common ground with Parker’s trademark fluidity blending nicely with Fields’ clean abstraction. Parker’s “LK 92,” the album’s opener, exhibits the only real groove on the record with an ominous chord progression from Fields providing a fertile landscape through which Parker negotiates his limber strolls. When Fields joins the jaunty ramble, the guitarists’ interplay tantalizes with gorgeous, interwoven lines and hurried passages that are more Jim Hall than Derek Bailey. They leave this relatively accessible real estate behind with the four Fields-conceived “Untitled” pieces (the composition listings actually read as medium descriptions for visual works of art as in “Untitled, 2004, Dried Blood On Gauze, Elastic Strip With Adhesive Backing”). These selections are markedly unstable objects with extended periods of reflective calm interrupted by agitated, tussling chatter from the six-stringed interlocutors; volume knobs are played with, pedals are engaged, and a bit of dirt is thrown on the canvas at times. Despite all the labor involved and some inspired moments, the tracks tend to meander aimlessly, never really marshalling a truly compelling reason to stick with the hike for its duration.

“The Fields of Cologne,” another Parker composition, finishes the record, thus fulfilling the simple logic of the album’s title. Much freer than “LK 92,” the introspective piece practically begs for the sinewy cornet of Rob Mazurek (Parker’s colleague from the Chicago Underground assemblies) to slip into the conversation. It is evident after listening to these two very different recordings [Song Songs Song and christangelfox] that Fields succeeds most profoundly when he casts his conceptual net far and wide. — Kevin Lian-Anderson,   One Final Note

Guitarist and composer Scott Fields   dislikes easy categorization. He’s created nonsensical terms for his music to prevent critics from pigeonholing him. He defined The Scott Fields Ensemble “as consisting of everyone who has performed or recorded with the group at any time. Although not all members are present at any given performance or recording, they are there in spirit when not corporeal.” His liner notes for this duo release with guitarist Jeff Parker are equally ornery, stealing potential critics’ rhetorical thunder. The six slippery improvisations live up to his rhetoric; all of them actively defy musical limitations.

Superficially, the pieces suggest an array of approaches: minimalism, free improv, Morton Feldman’s austere structures, blues, rich jazz. Parker and Fields, however, go beyond any one approach, edging toward Cage’s definition of sound: pitch, duration, timbre and loudness. The duo works in a larger narrative arc with ample use of repetition, silence, subtle variation and texture.

Fields’ half-serious titles express something of the duo’s intentions. Each one sounds like the name of a painting, and describes their collage approach to structure. On “Untitled, 1968, Bing Cherry Juice, KY Jelly, Ketchup on Vellum,” Parker and Fields glue together a series of spiky feedback bursts, tangled runs, volume-knob fade-ins and fade-outs and percussive strums. “Untitled, 2004, Dried Blood on Gauze, Elastic Strip with Adhesive Backing” begins like a musical still life as single notes, chords, plucks and scribbles briefly flicker. Isolated moments take center stage before the duo plunge each into a thicket of feedback and metallic ringing.

The artists continually lead the listener in different directions. On “Untitled, 2001, Soot on Slate,” the two guitarists excavate the melodic content, and focus on single tones, chords, or progressions. They examine their finds from every angle until they transform it completely. The pair wanders a labyrinth, not searching for its center or exit, but exploring each corner, route and dead-end.

Parker and Fields shadow each other throughout so closely that separating them becomes fruitless. Both use a sharp attack and quick decay, quiet dynamics, stunted phrasing, and very few, if any, effects. Their guitars on “Untitled, 1955, Crayon on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Box” stand naked. They clip phrases with rapid volume changes, chime delicate harmonics, grate the strings with their picks. The cumulative effect is at times powerful, at others dismayingly restless.

Two Parker pieces nicely bookend the album. The bubbling rhythmic lines of the album opener “LK 92,” reminiscent of Ali Farka Toure’s buoyant guitar work, act as a palate cleanser, while “The Fields of Cologne” serves as an after-dinner cappuccino. These pieces’ more overt melodies lighten the album’s unceasing investigation. — Matthew Wuethrich,   Dusted

Chicago Guitarist Jeff Parker’s ascent   has been as smooth and deft as his playing. He works ably in multiple contexts, not only in Tortoise and the various Chicago Underground line-ups but also as a sideman, backing Fred Anderson and other Chicago notables. His duo partner on this disc, guitarist Scott Fields, is somewhat less known, but that says nothing about the quality of his work.

There’s a clear division of labour, and an obvious aesthetic divergence, on Song Songs Song. Four of the disc’s six tracks are credited to Fields, and titled like works of visual art — “Untitled, 2001, Soot On Slate”; “Untitled, 1955, Crayon On Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Box”; “Untitled, 1968, Bing Cherry Juice, KY Jelly, Ketchup On Vellum”; “Untitled, 2004, Dried Blood On Gauze, Elastic Strip With Adhesive Backing”. These are more abstract, and difficult, that the opening “LK 92” and closing “The Fields Of Cologne”, both composed by Parker.

This is not to suggest that Parker is uneasy in noise/improv territory. Though he may jazz things up more frequently than his partner, he’s fearless through the disc’s 63 minutes. Indeed, his lyricism seizes the day at more than one point, making Fields’s more obstreperous gestures feel like stunts. This is particularly true during “Untitled, 1968 …”, which occasionally sounds like Parker and Fields have been replaced by Joe Morris and Orthrelm’s Mick Barr. Still, this CD isn’t a mismatch, rather a fascinating conversation between two equally talented, but philosophically distinct compatriots. — Phil Freeman,   The Wire

Guitarist Jeff Parker teams with   an electric-guitar-equipped Fields for a series of duets on Song Songs Song (Delmark), and, not surprisingly, the results are just as free as Christangelfox — and just as boring. The album opens and closes with pieces by Parker; sandwiched in between are four “Untitled” pieces by Fields where the pair contrast dirty and clean tones (“Untitled, 1968”), share a wealth of dissonant harmonies (“Untitled, 2004”) and spend many minutes trading complicated phrases reminiscent of Parker’s work in the math-rock group Tortoise. The incessant exploration produces not a single memorable moment. Why doesn’t Jeff Parker ditch arty pretension and spend more time honing the group sound of a record like “The Relatives”? — Russell Carlson,   Jazz Times

Although we are told that   first impressions are usually correct (the “go with your gut” approach), the liner notes for this release nearly derailed my enjoyment of the music. The notes, such as they are, were written by Fields and consist of a stream-of-consciousness collection of words and phrases in a postmodern style full of in-jokes and self-references, but also a lot of information if you stay with them (including a somewhat snide reference to Kali Fasteau, who does not even know Fields). Some of them are funny, even witty, and Fields actually makes a mistake (“Hendrix’s flat nines” [the Foxy Lady chord] is really a sharp nine), but one phrase is repeated quite a few times: “pitch and timbre over time.”

Boiled down, then, that phrase is exactly what this music is about. Fields gives some more hints, bolding and capitalizing the words melody, harmony, orchestration, rhythm, morphology, taxonomy, and osmosis, which are sprinkled through the notes. The title of the album Song Songs Song probably refers to the fact that tracks 1 and 6 are credited to Parker and tracks 2 through 5 to Fields. After a few close listens, one can easily hear motives or phrases, if not melody, that are presented, passed back and forth and developed, textures that thicken and thin, sound types that range from harmonics to severe distortion, slowly played sections next to ones with speedy runs, free rhythm juxtaposed against straight time.

Neither player can be called a traditional guitar player on this release, but Parker (left channel) is definitely the more lyrical and sentimental—“LK 92” has a very strong and (dare I say) pretty melody with a poignant secondary answering phrase; and “The Fields of Cologne” has an atmospheric “Frenchness” about it that draws one in, plus it has a definite quote from a jazz standard. Fields is much more in your face (note the song titles), and gets more “out there” sounds from his guitar, which come from the world of electronics and stomp boxes, sometimes scraping and pulling the strings (a picture shows him using a violin bow on his strings), sometimes using the volume knob to swell whatever distortion or feedback he is getting at the moment, and hence comes across as more experimental (despite the fact that there are obvious motivic figures), but always in control.

There is a certain messiness about the fast playing, but that might also be purposeful. I also have no idea how the players communicated their intentions to each other; how much was written out or how much was musical or visual cues. The tunes many times just trickle out, so unless you listen intently, where one track ends and another begins might be missed.

In sum, after a rough start, this album grew on me, and might be a winner for those who like to hear instruments pushed to the extreme, but within audible frameworks. — Budd Kopman,   All About Jazz

On Song Songs Song Parker   and guitarist Scott Fields engage in a freeform, improvised route amid track titles that would make Captain Beefheart proud. The duo partakes in scratching and clawing via lightly amplified electric guitar lines and contrasting sound-shaping maneuvers. On the opening “LK 92,” perhaps the most accessible piece of the bunch, Parker and Fields render a laidback jazz-blues motif topped off with an affecting melody and random shifts in pitch. Although the guitarists occasionally crank it up and with just enough amplification to generate some bite, the majority of the set is structured upon irregular ebbs and flows.

The duo uses space as a means for maintaining an element of surprise while also employing volume control techniques and assimilating a wide-ranging latitude of viewpoints. The 17-minute improvisation “Untitled, 1955, Crayon On Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Box,” is part minimalism and dissonance, embellished with clanging harmonics and odd phrasings. The picture painted here is that of two shrewd operators establishing a few guidelines, yet not knowing or caring where they’ll end up. 3 stars (out of 5) — Glenn Astarita,   DownBeat

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

That said, The Relatives is   generally more conventional-sounding than the flights of fancy on Song Songs Song, Parker’s collaboration with experimental guitarist Scott Fields. The CD starts off innocently enough. The Parker-penned “LK 92” pits a low-register, loping, minimal groove against swinging jazz-inflected melodies; the language wouldn’t be out of place on a Metheny or Frisell release. By the album’s second track, the Fields composition “Untitled, 1968, Bing Cherry Juice, KY Jelly, Ketchup on Vellum,” we are off to the races! The piece is a thirteen and a half minute assemblage of various avant-garde trademarks — feedback, atonal soloing, pointillist textures — brought together with a degree of whimsy and improvisatory character. Parker and Fields have a certain chemistry; they manage to find order within the chaos and the various diverse juxtapositions work, delightfully. Even more cohesive is “Untitled, 2004, Dried Blood on gauze, Elastic Strip,” which has a considerably appealing misterioso character; if Webern wrote for two electric guitars, this might be the result! — Christian Carey,   Signal to Noise