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Harvey Pekar     Listen, Madison! In composer-guitarist Scott Fields you have an accomplished, creative jazz artist — an innovator. That’ll come as a surprise to you. He’s not that well known in town, let alone nationally.

Currently there isn’t a lot of respect for innovation in jazz. The most popular performers aren’t even mainstream artists; they're reactionaries. But it’s people like Fields who keep art alive, fresh and growing. He’s facing today's musical challenges, not ignoring them.

What are these challenges? Many stem from the free-jazz style of the 1960s reaching a dead end. Free jazz then sometimes became unrestrained and self-indulgent. The musicians played as fast and as loud as they could, screaming and rasping, without giving any thought to pace. The fact that they eschewed chord changes did not aid many in playing inventively.

By the mid-1970s there was a crying need for more structured jazz performances. In response to this, many young musicians became traditionalists. Others, such as Anthony Braxton, John Zorn and Roy Nathanson, moved ahead in a variety of ways. Fields can be included in their camp. Fields himself has picked up ideas from the AACM jazzmen in his native Chicago, as well as Cecil Taylor.

You’ve got to concentrate on this CD closely to get the maximum from it. These guys are subtle; they don’t hit you over the head. But they’re doing groundbreaking work and deserve a hearing. —   Isthmus

    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 —   Urban Dialect

    Fields wrote all of the compositions on this stimulating CD and plays them on guitar with pianist Marilyn Crispell, bassist Hans Sturm, and percussionist Hamid Drake. Despite often performing quietly, they take plenty of risks. Fields employs harmonic and rhythmic/metric concepts derived from composer Stephen Dembski, which he’s modified for use in an improvising context. Often his group’s playing, though not conventionally melodic, is lyrical. Much of the disc features thoughtful, pointillistic collective improvisation. Crispell’s the most aggressive player here and performs impressively. Her work ranges from pensive to jarringly percussive, but is always well thought out, inventive, and clearly articulated. Fields plays economically, concentrating on adding color to the ensemble. Sturm and Drake make valuable contributions, listening closely to what’s going on and responding with intelligence and creativity. —    Jazziz

Christopher Porter     His solo technique is somewhat like the David Mamet plays that Fields uses as his inspiration for the CD’s titles: Mamet’s characters often converse in brief, elliptical dialogues that circle back on each other like Abbott and Costello doing heavy drama. Unlike Mamet’s writing, though, there is little humor or true tension in Fields’ music, which tends toward completely free improvisation, with little or no contrapuntalism among the players. Tracks like “Edmond” and “American Buffalo” come and go like an off-Broadway play, leaving little impression in the process. “The Woods” begins with almost two minutes of silence before the faintest sounds gurgle to the surface, and then it’s all timbral effects for the next seven, The song continues for another 10, and actually picks up some steam for a few minutes, but “The Woods,” like Mamet, is a potentially funny joke with a big buildup and a so-so punch line. —   Jazz Times


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