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Although guitarist Scott Fields is   the composer for each of the five lengthy compositions on Beckett, the music sounds very much like episodic free improvisations. The guitar-tenor-cello-percussion quartet has an unusual sound. The use of wit in places, along with occasional melodic passages, serves as a contrast to some rather noisy sound explorations. The musicians listen closely to each other although quite often they follow completely independent paths. The final results will certainly keep listeners guessing for just when one is ready to sum it all up as a freeform screamfest, the mood shifts and the band plays a spacey ballad. Listeners who are open to rockish sounds and avant-garde ideas will find this music of strong interest. 3½ stars — Scott Yanow,   All Music Guide



Beckett follows in the conceptual   footsteps of Mamet (Delmark, 2001), guitarist Scott Fields’ previous project inspired by an author. Tracking the thematic similarities between Beckett’s writing and Fields’ compositions is a tenuous prospect, like any project that yields inspiration from a divergent art form. Nonetheless, the album provides a challenging and rewarding listen on its own, with or without knowledge of its genesis.

From aleatoric excursions to blistering, jittery free-bop, Fields has an ear for adventurous, unconventional sounds. Christening his work “post-free jazz,” Fields’ complex, multi-part compositions reveal themselves gradually, providing ample room for solo expression and unified thematic development. Packed with intricate counterpoint and tight group interplay, these labyrinthine works blur the line between the composed and the improvised with kaleidoscopic, pre-written passages and dense, free-wheeling improvisations.

Joining him for the first time are three new collaborators. Ubiquitous percussionist John Hollenbeck is a fountainhead of unique textures and unconventional rhythms, his pneumatic inventions contribute an array of percussive wonder to the session. Tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert blends fervent angularity with a flighty, mercurial zeal, especially during his spasmodic tirade on the agitated “What Where.” Cellist Scott Roller employs a diverse approach, blending a sober, singing tone with a scathing bow attack. His lyrical turn on the pensive introspection of “Come and Go” is as delicately melodious as his assertive assault on “What Where” is jarring. The leader shines in this spartan context, his bright tone accenting a razor sharp fusillade of notes one minute, genteel chords the next (sometimes together), as on the zany swing of “Rockaby.”

Although conceptual allusions to literature might suggest haughty pretension, Beckett is actually Fields’ most varied and swinging record in years. Even at their most abstract, these are engaging compositions, bolstered by zealous group interaction, rich harmonic ingenuity and stunning dynamic range. Like the work of its dedicatee, one listen to this album won’t do it justice. — Troy Collins,   All About Jazz



The guitarist Scott Fields provides   a tribute to Samuel Beckett with a dense and challenging bit of chamber jazz or maybe modern classical/free music that he describes as “post-free jazz” and “exploratory music.” His concept of tightly packed compositions with noisy breaches of the oft times violent surface tempts the outer reaches of sound. Perfectly matched by the overtly quirky drummer, John Hollenbeck, these odd structures ask many musical questions, and sometimes provide answers. — Mark Corroto,   All About Jazz



Think of music you associate   with Samuel Beckett and you probably think something spare, lean, minimal, Morton Feldman being the most obvious point of reference. There was, after all, their (anti-?)operatic collaboration Neither, and two of the composer’s three last completed works were Beckett-related (Words and Music, and For Samuel Beckett). But despite several striking similarities — compare Feldman’s fondness for gently permutating cells and the internal repetitions and sonic play of Beckett’s late prose — there are appreciable differences, notably the size and scale of their final works. While Feldman stretched out in the last decade of his life, almost as if he’d foreseen the arrival of the 80-minute compact disc that would become the ideal medium for the spacious, thinly-painted canvases of his late compositions, Beckett’s works became ever more condensed, distilled. (You could, though, argue that the ultimate distillation of his work was 1969’s tiny playlet, Breath, which, devoid of both actors and dialogue, lasts just 35 seconds, but there’s still some debate among Beckett scholars as to whether this was evidence of the author’s wry sense of humour, written as it was for Kenneth Tynan’s bawdy review Oh Calcutta!). Whatever, when you think Beckett you don’t automatically think of elegant and intricately crafted modern chamber jazz, but that’s precisely what guitarist Scott Fields offers us here on this magnificent quartet outing with John Hollenbeck (percussion), Scott Roller (cello) and Matthias Schubert (tenor saxophone).

There’s little direct correlation that I can find between the album’s five tracks and the Beckett works they take their titles from — Breath, Play, Come And Go, What Where and Rockaby (all plays as it turns out) — but dig a bit deeper and the similarities begin to appear. One of the reasons Beckett’s oeuvre has consistently fascinated musicians is its sheer musicality: a constant sense of play between micro and macro form, a concern for motive, idea, development, coupled with a wicked ear and subtle sense of humour. And that’s exactly what Fields is working with here. Sometimes the pieces are as ferociously determined as the monologue that propels The Unnamable to its unforgettable conclusion ("I can’t go on, I’ll go on"), sometimes they appear to slump into the ditch at the side of the road like Watt. Sometimes they’re as wild and effusive as Lucky’s celebrated stream-of-consciousness speech in Waiting for Godot, sometimes they’re as still as Still. Fields’ accompanying text, not surprisingly a little Beckettian itself, seems to be apologetic in tone (“All that improvisation. Anti-Beckett, if anything. I have a lot to answer for. Pray for me”) but there’s nothing to say sorry for. Beckett was apparently fond of Franz Schubert; I’d like to think he might dig Matthias too. The playing of all four musicians throughout is exemplary, the scores cunningly crafted and intriguing to the point of being frustrating (and if that isn’t Beckettian I don’t know what is) and the recording superb. What more could you ask for? A sequel, perhaps. — Dan Warburton,   Paris Transatlantic Magazine



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



Cologne-based expatriate American guitarist Scott   Fields frames this memorable quartet session as a tribute to existential Irish writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). Unlike Beckett’s almost static works featuring lonely humans trying to articulate the unexpressive however, Fields’ compositions manage to be both stirring and affecting.

Although the longer tracks incorporate Beckett-like extended pauses, elsewhere all-encompassing, multi-voiced counterpoint recalls not the Irish dramatist’s bare-bones style, but the overlapping dialogue of film makers such as Robert Altman. American playwright David Mamet received a similar homage from Fields in 2000 and the subsequent years have fortified the guitarist’s playing and writing…or is it acting and directing?

Dramatis personae in this work include a cast of experienced actors…er, players. German tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert exposes timbres ranging from pumping atonal slurs to echoing, chesty vibrations; versatile American percussionist John Hollenbeck busily propels the splintered beat with his regular kit, while using water-glass-like pings, pealing chimes, and what sounds like rubber-balls bouncing on snare tops for added scene-setting. Yank expat cellist Scott Roller, of the legit Helios String Quartet, adds cross-swiped col legno jabs as effortlessly as vamping walking bass lines.

While the staccato “Play” projects quadruple counterpoint from all concerned — demonstrating call-and-call rather than call-and-response — the nearly 30-minute agitato “What Where” is Fields’ chef d’oeuvre. With his knob-twisting distortion and slurred fingering on show, the guitarist elaborates the accelerating explosive theme on top of solid rhythms propelled both by Hollenbeck’s unaffected smacks, slaps and pops and near-identical stop-and-start voicing of scrapes, whistles, stops and vibrations from cello and saxophone.

Thematically conclusive throughout, Beckett transcends its derivation to become CD that is certainly more polyphonic — and often more theatrical — than Beckett’s writing. — Ken Waxman,   Coda Magazine



Beckett features the Scott Fields   Ensemble in a tribute to the work of playwright Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). Running helter-skelter and varied with much emotion, the quartet members interact as characters in a play, letting their conversations come and go without restraint. Tenor saxophone, cello, drums and percussion and the leader’s fiery guitar make each composition sparkle with animation. They prefer short, choppy statements that move back and forth from one artist to the next. Whereas most Free Jazz ensembles fit the pieces together in such a way that they’re able to deliver their music simultaneously, Like the script for a play, each artist here becomes a character in the composer’s arena. They juggle their musical lines with such seamless delight that it all seems quite natural. However, the music runs detached and choppy for the most part. While much of the program flits back and forth, there’s considerable space between the lines. Fields’ comfortable guitar remains capable of expressing a wide range of emotion, from quiet inhibition to rage. Cellist Scott Roller fulfills the role of melody-maker as well as providing the underlying rhythmic pulse. John Hollenbeck colors with swirling activity, while saxophonist Matthias Schubert contributes considerable thematic material. Beckett was a minimalist who allowed his work to grow increasingly cryptic. What a perfect match for Scott Fields, who points his latest improvised project in the same direction with much success. — Jim Santella,   Cadence Magazine



Let it not be said   that Scott Fields cannot learn from his betters. As it was pointed out by this very critic, although certainly by other like-minded arts analysts as well, his 2002 Delmark recording Mamet failed in its stated goal of alleviating the chore of reading or watching dramatic works. For reasons one hopes were simply incompetence rather than malice or deeply buried self-destructive urges, Fields omitted much of the meat and instead proffered creamed spinach. Perhaps here I must remind the forgetful reader that the Chicago string-bender offered an alleged time-saver which was to permit the harried customer to listen to instrumental condensations of literary masterworks rather than struggle with the written word or sit through interminable video realizations, not to mention live presentations, by far the most time-guzzling method for the consumption of a playwright’s reflections. Although these aural Cliff Notes were an admirable goal, the pick-pusher shot himself in our foot by not only severely abridging the texts of five David Mamet plays, but also by keeping the exact placement of the cuts to himself and perhaps his A&R man. All educational value was abandoned because the listener, no matter how attentive, was provided no hint of where acts or scenes or even speeches began or ended. The uproar, led by your correspondent, was deafening.

In this mismanaged mea culpa, Fields sets every word in five Samuel Beckett plays. Before providing his purportedly improved play-stitutes, he lifts his middle finger off the fretboard of his customized jazz guitar and extends it to you, the listener. Rather than get right to work explicating Beckett’s notoriously convoluted wordplay, Fields tenders the playwrite’s infamous “Breath,” an entirely wordless!! work. Very funny Fields. Ha ha. For the remaining four plays the so-called composer provides a rhythm and pitch for every uttered word. Alas, the result in no more useful than that of Mamet. Rather than exposing the words, Fields camouflages them with audible fog. He muddies the musical waters with incomprehensible extra sounds and notes. Worse yet, at times he layers lines, rendering the meaning of Beckett’s dialog distressingly distant. Even with text in hand, this listener found lines exceeding hard to hound dog. Sniffing out meaning became more work than it was worth. Perhaps if this were Fields’ first folly, hope could be held that illuminating his errors would lead someday to a more functional educational aid. But this political season has already exposed the pitfalls found in platefuls of false hope. Thanks but no thanks Fields. I would rather peruse Ron Paul’s proposals than fish for meaning in this bait-and-switch swamp of words rendered irrelevant. — Hugh Jarrid,   Swingin’ Thing Magazine



Both of these releases have   prose as their muse and include drummer John Hollenbeck as a sideman. This is not surprising as Hollenbeck is a meticulous musician who has a proclivity for precision and a propensity for delicate phrasing. Electric guitarist Scott Fields fronts a quartet that employs free improvisation to depict more the form and feel than the storyline of five plays by Samuel Beckett while German bassist Henning Sieverts and his quintet cleverly construct a program of palindromic playfulness with 14 cuts based upon both literary and musical symmetry.

Beckett is best known as a minimalist who highlighted the conundrum of humanity’s despair in conjunction with the will to go on; Fields however has given him a surprisingly upbeat interpretation. Cellist Scott Roller and saxophonist Matthias Schubert are the two additional performers who round out this interesting quartet and they fit very well into what alternates between engaging dialogue and freeform soliloquy. Hollenbeck propels more with staccato jabs than by laying down a discernible rhythm track to set the overall prosody, setting the stage for creative interpretations. “Breath” maintains the original brevity of the stage-work but restages birth-cry to whimper while riffing off of the “birth-life-death” theme. The extended compositions pick up on bits and pieces of the originals: a pause, a single structure, the gestalt to develop a lively musical discussion of the dramatic material. — Elliott Simon,   All About Jazz