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The history behind the names   of these two pieces for improvising chamber group is too difficult to synthesize here; check the liners or google around, also to learn about the various evolutions of the very orchestra’s appellative. What’s transparent is that the opening period is dedicated to Masami Akita (aka Merzbow), though Fields and his companions decided to approach the task with the sagacious expertise of a qualified ensemble paying homage to a time-honored composer rather than a Japanese noise merchant. The outcome is a superb paradigm of how to carry out a joint improvisation, the timbres so consistently interconnected in different permutations and dynamics that giving privileges to “lead” designs and distinct ideas becomes a pointless exercise. Our friendly advice is to relinquish a bit of focus and abandoning yourselves to a compelling stream of beautifully emitted music, nurturing one’s yearning for density in a collective statement without losing grip on the poetic aspects of the diverse instrumental idioms.

The first, and a sizable chunk of the fourth movement of “OZZO” are plain wonders, replete with fine games of call and response, tactful probing of quietness and recurring parallelisms between assorted groups (sax, accordion and strings in particular evidence, with Thomas Lehn’s synthesizer adding pinches of analogue salt and the flutists inserting small enigmas throughout). The rest is more directly reminiscent of the conductor’s style both in terms of composition and as a guitarist: minuscule cells and dissonant quirks succeed and involve, the interest maintained by the extreme unsettledness generated by the palette’s variety. With musicians of the caliber of Frank Gratkowski, Carl Ludwig Hübsch, Melvyn Poore, Angelika Sheridan and Georg Wissel among the many — everybody deserving a “well done” — this live recording (Cologne’s Loft, January 2009) is as impeccable as a pre-planned studio session. — Massimo Ricci,   Touching Extremes



The theorbo is a lute   with an incredibly long neck, Stephan Rath a master of this instrument specialized in early music repertoires. Scott Fields is, well, Scott Fields — in this occasion picking a gorgeously sounding nylon string guitar made by Robert Ruck. In 2007, MusikTriennale Köln run the series “Solos For Duos, Improvisation From Yesterday And Today” pairing musicians coming from opposite grounds on related instruments: exactly what these two artists needed for their encounter.

This composition, like in other works by the Cologne-residing American guitarist, is based on spoken language: in this case, an imaginary conversation whose tones and accents were transformed into notational concepts enriched with improvised elements. The instrumental range is quite similar except for some deeply resounding basses, so the challenge while listening to What We Talk is essentially to determine who is playing what in a number of circumstances (expert ears will definitely tell the timbres apart, though). As the composer puts it, “roles can change instantly and seamlessly or can disappear entirely“. The reward for the effort is music that sounds clear as a sunny autumn morning, also thanks to the fantastic quality of the recording (hats off, Reinhard Kobialka). The parts are always absolutely intelligible, even when the contiguousness of the upper partials elicits a slight meshing of natural reverberations, which is a wonderful effect if you ask me. This stuff is going to gratify devotees of serious acoustic interplay, including icons from the times of yore such as Lenny Breau and Ralph Towner (provided that the above mentioned aficionados are prepared to step a little further in terms of contemporariness).

The record is the demonstration of how ambitiousness and sharp-mindedness easily live together when the involved parties are both willing to listen to the counterpart and to give something earnest and, at the same time, logical to the audience. An ideal synthesis of technique, heart and brain, an utterly calming album with a uniquely refined edge. Oh, and the track called “The Very Moment I Saw Your Facebook Page I Just Knew We Are Soulmates Forever” confirms Fields as the George Foreman of titling. — Massimo Ricci,   Touching Extremes

Look for the probable in   Scott Fields’ work and prepare yourselves to bang your head hard, for a record like Samuel — the successor to Beckett on Clean Feed — is designed to pose questions, not answer them. The lone certainty derived from weeks of attentive scrutiny is the acceptance of my fraught ignorance, already creeping through my brain after having read Dan Warburton’s über-detailed liners, which explain this music — and perhaps Fields’s art at large — better than if you spoke with the man himself. Then came the actual sonic content, completely scored by attributing parts of the celebrated playwright’s texts to specific instruments (the ensemble comprises saxophonist Matthias Schubert, cellist Scott Roller and percussionist John Hollenbeck) and — in live performances — putting the sounds in conjunction with an exact lighting plan depending on the interplay’s ever-changing dynamics.

Each of the three movements is terrific per se, due to a series of different aspects. “Not I” is so technically problematical and frenziedly arrhythmic in its development that the only way in which this writer managed to welcome and somehow digest that composite flux was a hint of silently convulsive tap dancing during the routine morning wait for the train to Rome. Unpredictable changes of accent and systematic disintegration of tonality connected to noises, gestures and faces, knottily interrelated outbursts in which the single parts occasionally seem slightly off beam, whereas everything obeys instead to an dispassionate yet enlivening logic. The leader’s elegantly malicious guitar is more in evidence in the subsequent “tunes”, “Ghost Trio” and “Eh Joe”, both moderately akin to jazz ballads in a way — the kind of “jazz” that is not taught at Berklee — but with such a number of false starts and hiccupping cadenzas that might cause a careless listener to feel seasick. The musicians splinter every available paragraph while sidestepping stylistic blatancy throughout, providing us with continuous demonstrations of their incredibly responsive commitment to the music. If Fields didn’t manage to “work on the nerves of the audience”, he surely succeeded in making this reviewer’s stab at depicting this document appear fairly laughable. One and a half upturned nose, all being well. — Massimo Ricci,   Touching Extremes



Listen to Scott Fields’ opinion:   “(…) collaborations between bald guitarists are, by their nature, irresistibly charming (…)”. Not a truer word. And the hairless virtuosity we’re given handfuls of in “Scharfefelder” is enough to make me stop thinking about those hyperglycemic crises I experienced decades ago, when the depleted puppy who’s writing these words thought of “Friday Night in San Francisco” as a good starting place to take the instrument a little more seriously. As Goofy would have it, gawrsh. This acoustic duet, recorded at Sharp’s zOaR studio halfway through August 2007, shows that one can still play full chords and let them resonate without being ashamed; and if those shapes proliferate until becoming three or four hundreds — and even badly dissonant, for Christ’s sake — strange halos of peculiar harmonics might invade your terrain and persuade you that flamenco is born again, in a bionic variety (“Doubleviz”) excluding predetermined progressions. Need slanted lines? There are things here which could convince that Sharp and Fields’ fingers are somehow disjointed (“Freefall”); they catch the exact spot where resonant note and wood-ish thud meet, transforming their artistic personae in human bradawls smiling at the listener while punching holes in the residual convictions about that erstwhile tool for serenades and beach hooking. If Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie ever get to hear this, they might be willing to drown in the Sargasso Sea (just kidding, huh? I like some of that stuff, too). Shaven craniums reflecting the open-mouthed admiration of a fellow instrumentalist still willing to learn, impartiality be damned. Not an easy record, in any case: give it the fullest attention and don’t try to use it as background, either you’re a guitarist or not. — Massimo Ricci,   Touching Extremes



Beckett was recorded by a   strong quartet consisting of Scott Fields (electric guitar), John Hollenbeck (percussion), Scott Roller (cello) and Matthias Schubert (tenor sax). The leader uses “post-free jazz” and “exploratory music” as definitions to help us poor reviewers writing about his vision, in this case setting Samuel Beckett’s short plays in terms of sonic rendition. The CD contains five tracks of what one could call “radical comprovisation,” a no-genre-all-genres series of structural possibilities for instruments to dialogue calmly or look for litigation. On a first approach we could think about entities like Curlew or Doctor Nerve; sometimes things get a little more complicated, though. Fields privileges a clean timbre on his axe, which is fundamental to maintain absolute clarity in his pretty entangled lines. Roller excavates imaginative figurations while remaining an ideal partner for dissonant unisons and ever-evolving, intertwining dissertations with Schubert’s non-conservative vocabulary. Hollenbeck is a bright-minded participant to a collectively sensitive interplay that never ceases to amaze, alternating basic patterns, uncontrollable rolls and sheer bedlam with self-controlled gestural balance and almost exhilarating musicianship. Everything in this disc tends to the instantaneous generation of attitude-permeated linear and textural counterpoint, whose results add spice and intelligence to a music which is only apparently difficult to penetrate, revealing instead many layers and secrets that will make adventurous listeners seriously happy. An advertisement for well-regulated iconoclastic playing, Beckett is one of those releases carrying the same weight of a powerful political statement. Listen and learn, then decide if you still need the velvet touch of deadly boring “jazz.” — Massimo Ricci,   Touching Extremes



Guitarist and composer Fields assembled   a double trio to interpret the complex nuances of his half-written, half-improvised scores, giving the players circumstantial instructions in order for the compositions to sound like “puzzle pieces,” the six instrumentalists effectively intertwining rhythms and phraseologies yet resulting as a coherent, and ultimately delightful whole. No wonder that this stuff remained unpublished for years, while — to quote the author — “label owners fell in and out of love with the music”: this is fairly difficult material, which in its presumed calmness offers many and one points of observation for a series of crosscurrents mixing modern jazz and quasi-chamber apparitions, spiced by mostly clean-toned if pretty dissonant guitars (Fields and Jeff Parker — yes, Tortoise‘s), elegantly austere, beautifully sustaining basses (Jason Roebke, Hans Sturm), swinging-but-also-pensive drumming (Hamid Drake, Michael Zerang). Divided into seven tracks, whose names are a joy to read — take a look at the full title of “…His late wife…” to have an idea — the 72 minutes of Dénouement do not carry excessive weight at any moment, being instead gifted with considerable musicianship which transports the ensemble towards those heights where the rarefied air of clever interplay is present and easily breathable. Minimal in a way, communicative at various levels, these arrangements show Fields‘ lucid vision and ability to remain within the realms of circuitousness while avoiding those sterile dialectic supplements that uncork the bottles of vintage listlessness typical of dead-end jazz. This is a commendable album to savour delicately, repeatedly, consciously.— Massimo Ricci,   Touching Extremes

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