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Alex Henderson     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 —   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. —    All Music Guide

Tad Hendrickson     On Mamet guitarist Scott Fields takes poignant moments from five David Mamet plays and sets them to music, making full use of the playwright’s penchant for exaggerated linguistic rhythm to fire the structure and dynamics of these songs. The concept will likely be too cerebral for some (isn’t playing good music hard enough?), but the results work as avant-garde jazz. With help from drummer Michel Zerang and bassist Michael Formanek, the trio broods, bristles, cries and pries, replicating the drama of Mamet’s dialogue-driven scenes. Fields’s guitar takes the part of the woman and Formanek the man, leaving Zerang to provide the rhythmic undertow. Undoubtedly one of the most adventurous albums to come out from the Delmark camp, Mamet pushes jazz to a place many jazz musicians don’t dare to go. —   CMJ New Music Report

Jeffrey Herrmann     Entitled 48 Motives, his piece consists of melodic fragments composed using a harmonic system that is intended to provide a listenable application of the serial twelve tone techniques used by classical composer Arnold Schoenberg. Highly listenable it is, as the figures played by cellist Matt Turner and ex-Art Ensemble of Chicago member Joseph Jarman are both emotive and melodic. Though the chaotic polyrhythms caused by the active participation of each of the members at times seem random there are plenty of stabilizing musical figures that sustain the music without relying on familiar patterns. —   yourflesh

Michael Herrschel     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)   Neue Musikzeitung

Karen Hogg     Guitar duos present many possibilities for intrepid musicians. Such pairings can be opportunities for boundary-pushing sonic explorations.

Scharfefelder, a collaboration between guitarists Elliott Sharp and Scott Fields, is a frenetic set of duets performed on acoustic guitars. This is a challenging listen, with dissonant passages a common occurrence, but still obvious that both musicians are masters of the instrument. Tracks such as “Branendrane” and “Put your pennies in my Portuguese cork hat” showcase the iconoclastic—and quite different from each other—playing of both guitarists. Sharp and Fields both contributed to the compositional structures here, with each piece more of a loose set of parameters for improvisation than tunes in any conventional sense. —   All About Jazz

Walter Horn     There are undoubtedly some terrific moments, but the whole project is too self-consciously eclectic and “downtown” to allow the players to lose themselves in the music for sustained periods. In music, as in life, nirvana requires forgetting oneself. Here, both the writing and the playing seem at certain times to fall into the refrain “Remember Me!…Me! and at others to reverberate loudly with a “What should I be doing now?” vibe. —   Cadence Magazine

Tom Hull     Guitarist, sort of Chicago’s answer to Derek Bailey, although I wouldn’t swear on that, since for me one of the main things they have in common is that I’ve never made much sense out of either. This is a trio, recorded in Germany, with Sebastian Gramss on double bass and João Lobo on drums. Title isn’t obviously reflected in the music, but it sure is in the song titles: “Yea, sure, we can still be friends, whatever;” “Go ahead, take the furniture, at least you helped pick it out;” “My love is love, your love is hate;” “Your parents must be just ecstatic now;” “I was good enough for you until your friends butted in;” “You used to say I love you but so what now.” Liner notes hit even harder. Not sure where the music comes from — sublimated anger? — but it seems uncommonly focused, for once.

I’ve played this record a lot on the road the last month, and it’s never let me down. The avant-guitarist has a tendency elsewhere to diddle in abstractions, but he plays with remarkable logic here — bitterness must focus the mind. The Freetet adds bass and drums, bulking up the sound and punctuating the emotions. (A-) —   tomhull.com

    Chicago guitarist, has a couple dozen albums since 1993, of which this original 1995 recording was his second, brought back on a new label. Group wobbles between Matt Turner on cello and Robert Stright on vibes, the former slowing things down and sapping them up, the latter bristling with energy. Group also includes bass and percussion. Fields has some very nice runs, and the vibes are terrific. (B+) —   

    Guitar/tenor sax duo. Guitarist Fields has a couple dozen albums back to 1993. Schubert has four albums since 1992, including the well-regarded Blue and Grey Suite from 1994. They previously played together on Fields’ 2006 album Beckett. They're careful here to match up their tones, so you get close listening and interaction, even balance. Does run on rather long. (B+) —   

     Guitarist, from Chicago, has a couple dozen albums since 1993, about as close as anyone to being an American analog to Derek Bailey. Doesn’t play here; instead conducts MJO through a 13:54 piece dedicated to Merzbow and the much-longer 4-part “OZZO.” MJO was founded in 2008 by Frank Gratkowski (alto sax), Carl Ludwig Hübsch (tuba), and Matthias Schubert (tenor sax), with 24 members credited here — a little bit of everything (except guitar), including computer and analog electronics. Has that scratchy, abstract feel, but is rarely without interest, and more pleasing than anyone would expect. (B+) —   

     Avant guitarist, b. 1946, based in Chicago, has about twenty albums since 1993, several of which have been picked up and reissued by Clean Feed. Seems like most are cranky solo affairs, but some aren’t, and this one is dominated by Marilyn Crispell’s piano, at her iciest, creating fractured landscapes that Fields, bassist Hans Sturm, and drummer Hamid Drake trek through. B+, three stars. —   


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