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Composer of contemporary chamber music   and opera and certified master of the Japanese shakuhachi flute Jeffrey Lependorf cites an insightful incident he had with iconoclastic composer John Cage that reveals much about typical misconceptions about what is right and what is wrong in music and art. Lebendorf wanted Cage to clarify his vague instructions for a theater piece he was assigned to assist a choreographer to prepare. But Cage insisted, kindly enough, that “everything is in the instructions.” After the performance of this piece, and following the standing ovation, Lependorf asked again Cage for his opinion, and Cage, typically but again, kindly enough, answered that he “did everything wrong.”

Back to the present. Lependorf’s collaboration with idiosyncratic guitarist and composer in avant-jazz and New Music Scott Fields does not bother itself with questions about what sound right or wrong. All sounds are beautiful, as Cage once said, and these two masterful and resourceful musicians do not attempt to replicate any form of new world music or new-agey, meditative kind of interplay (as the Shakuhachi is associated with the Zen school of Buddhism), or to follow any familiar concept.

The two musicians suggest how innovative and original music of the 21st century can sound. Music that patiently, almost methodically, explores new timbres and sonic options; uses silence as basic element; is compassionate but never sentimental, gifted with dark humor but not emotionally detached; and always demonstrating deep listening and careful sensitivity to the the most fragile qualities of the music making process and and its immediate options.

The improvised pieces “Objects in Relation to Other Objects” and “The Politics of Solitude” are masterful expressions of the high art of these two musicians. Music that is comprised from brief, abstract and subtle articulations, loosely connected, but eventually accumulate to profound, mesmerizing pieces. The intimate, chamber interplay on “Oh yes” and “Tip bloused” is simply timeless with its thoughtful references to classical, contemporary and East-Asian music. The surprising cover of John Coltrane’s “Naima” is a moving tribute to the great master, performed with deep emotional gratitude but without reverence, wisely sketching this timeless classic.

Unique masterpiece. — Eyal Hareuveni,   All About Jazz



Applying laser to Minaret Minuets   (or playing the download), from electric guitarist Scott Fields and tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert, recalls the early days of mono-into-stereo recordings. Back then you might hear the saxophonist coming from just one speaker. Where you sat in relation to your hi-fi set up was paramount. By unplugging one channel you would be able to create your own solo session. With Fields and Schubert, both strong soloists, you might be tempted to do the same, but, alas, modern engineers blend the channels for balanced listening.

Fields, an American free jazz player from 1960s’ Chicago, has transformed into a complex thinker and organizer of structured and intricate group interactions and improvisations. He moved to Germany a few years back and began working in Schubert’s jazz orchestra. The two have also collaborated on Fields’ ensemble recording, Beckett (Clean Feed, 2007), with John Hollenbeck and Scott Roller.

What stands out here is the multiple simple gestures made by each musician. Be it a saxophone’s flutter and breath or a guitar’s string of notes, each produces sounds that seem to shimmer or glow before dwindling away. The pair apply more space than might be expected. Is it in deference to the other? Perhaps. Maybe that is why the ear is drawn to a single speaker. Focusing on just one player would cause you to ignore the superb interaction of forces here. —Mark Corroto,   
All About Jazz



The works of Samuel Beckett   have been a recurrent source of inspiration for guitarist Scott Fields. Samuel is Fields’ second effort at conveying the master’s prose through pure sound, following Beckett (Clean Feed, 2007). Transposing the original text of Beckett’s plays into precise pitches, chords and time signatures, Fields transforms Beckett’s wordplay into melodies and harmonies that share more than a passing resemblance to jazz. Despite their cerebral origins and abstruse character, the ensuing works are in fact fairly accessible.

Eschewing pure free improvisation in favor of advanced compositional structures, Fields has long been an advocate of composer Stephen Dembski’s post-serial harmonic system, which uses multiple tone rows to construct non-tonal scales. The subtle dissonances, odd intervals and angular melodies of Fields’ writing provide him and his sidemen with a bevy of timbre and pitch choices, lending their improvisations an oblique, enthralling character.

Joined by tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert, cellist Scott Roller and percussionist John Hollenbeck, Fields and company extrapolate three of Beckett’s emotionally claustrophobic plays into evocative sound portraits. Fields’ abstract compositions seamlessly fuse elaborate counterpoint, odd time signatures and unorthodox arrangements with sections of controlled group interplay, blurring the line between the written and the improvised.

Encapsulating a range of emotions, the episodic “Not I” careens with fervid angularity and bustling agitation while “Ghost Trio” ebbs with cinematic intrigue. Mirroring the play, “Not I” is structured around a series of repeated motifs, allowing each musician a chance to solo, with particular attention paid to Schubert, who leads the piece with an array of effusive, histrionic variations. Although “Ghost Trio” was originally coined in honor of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Trio, Fields avoids the obvious, setting the piece as a languid jazz ballad with noir overtones, showcasing the quartet’s introspective side with a string of spare, bluesy meditations. “Eh Joe” is the album’s conceptual centerpiece, progressively building from hushed pointillism to a strident, rock-inflected unison theme, emulating the original teleplay’s escalating inner drama.

In league with Beckett, and earlier still, Mamet (Delmark, 2001), Samuel is another winning transposition of the written word into instrumental sonorities. Buoyed by fervid group interplay and compelling lyrical invention, these harmonically audacious and challenging compositions offer a wealth of ideas, much like the work of their dedicatee. — Troy Collins,   All About Jazz



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. — Karen Hogg,   All About Jazz



The Freetet is ostensibly Cologne-based   guitarist Scott Fields’ “traditional blowing vehicle,” and Bitter Love Songs is his first in the guitar-bass-drums format since Mamet (Delmark, 2001), with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Michael Zerang. On Bitter Love Songs, he’s joined by German bassist Sebastian Gramss and Portuguese drummer João Lobo. What makes this date a semi-departure for Fields is that, in the last six years, most of his work has been for chamber ensembles with unique instrumentation; improvised but with challenging notation. These include Beckett (Clean Feed, 2006) and We Were the Phliks (Rogue Art, 2007).

“Yea Sure, We Can Still Be Friends, Whatever” opens Bitter Love Songs, an evermore scumbled improvisation on a simple-but-effective bluesy theme, from fleet mid-range choruses to muted smears interspersed with referential flecks. Gramss and Lobo make a solid post-bop pair, yet seamlessly enter into frantic collective interplay as Fields’ runs become blurred.

More pointillist is “Go Ahead, Take the Furniture, At Least You Helped Pick It Out,” occupying similar structural territory to Fields’ more delicate chamber pieces, while still sallying forth with a pliant groove.

What might separate this group from “traditional” theme-solos-theme orientation is that, for the most part, the leader is the only soloist (Gramss is spotlighted on “I Was Good Enough for You…”). Nevertheless, the Freetet’s approach is certainly unified—as Fields’ playing becomes more fragmentary and texturally diverse, Gramss and Lobo up the ante. Indeed, the bassist is frequently the first to follow Fields in speedy plucked lines, as mutual shading soon approaches a locking of horns.

“My Love is Love, Your Love is Hate” (winner of the shortest-title contest on this disc) finds the writing becoming progressively more seasick in a hellishly knotty melodic/rhythmic collision, Lobo’s suspended time gradually filling in momentum alongside the strings’ ornate picking, digs and scrapes. Sub-tonal jabs behind the bridge approach British guitarist Ray Russell’s territory, before the trio brings the tune into a muddy thrum. One must be prepared for relentlessness with this disc—even the brief calm of a dusky Grant Green-ish melody on “Your Parents Must Be Just Ecstatic Now” is quickly overtaken by a storm of fuzz and piercing shards.

When Fields and guitarist Jeff Parker convened a double-trio for Denouement (Geode, 1997, reissued on Clean Feed), the level of interplay from the “paired Freetets” astounded this writer. On Bitter Love Songs, multiplying the equation is unnecessary, as there’s so much music available here. — Clifford Allen,   All About Jazz



While the sardonic album title   alludes to a session fraught with rancorous despair, guitarist Scott Fields’ Bitter Love Songs is, perhaps ironically, one of his most accessible efforts. Born in Chicago, but now based in Cologne, Germany, Fields recorded this date in his new home town with German bassist Sebastian Gramss and Portuguese drummer João Lobo. An iconoclast who favors unusual instrumental combinations, this is his first guitar trio recording since Mamet (Delmark, 2001), with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Michael Zerang.

In the scathing liner notes Fields explains that the unsettled themes, fitful rhythms and grating dissonances elicited by the trio are intended to invoke the nerve-wracking nausea that accompanies the impending dissolution of romance. While all of these traits are present, they are often fairly subtle; in contrast to his exotic conceptual projects, this loose trio session is actually somewhat conventional.

With Fields as the principle soloist, Gramss and Lobo follow the guitarist’s lead, providing stirring rhythmic accompaniment that vacillates in tempo from casual to frantic. The majority of the tunes saunter at a buoyant mid-tempo clip with periods of intermittent turbulence. Occasionally reaching a fevered pitch, but never boiling over, the trio generates a more agreeable mood than one would expect from such song titles as “My Love Is Love, Your Love Is Hate” and “Your Parents Must Be Just Ecstatic Now.” Only “I Was Good Enough for You Until Your Friends Butted In” breaks form with a languorous abstract blues.

A proponent of structured improvisation based on tone row manipulation, Fields conveys his enigmatic statements with focused intensity. He fires rapid salvoes of knotty linear cadences at regular staccato intervals from his clean-toned hollow body. At his most feverish, he conjures blistering chromatic note clusters as he scuttles across his fretboard. Together, Gramss’ elastic walking bass patterns, Lobo’s shuffling trap set ruminations and Fields’ thorny commentary coil into a kaleidoscopic mosaic of expressionistic interplay.

Despite the derisive title, Bitter Love Songs is a compelling example of modern jazz guitar improvisation supported by an empathetic rhythm section. For aficionados of unfettered guitar traditions, this is essential listening. — Troy Collins,   All About Jazz



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



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



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



Three musicians gather to make   music. Each plays an instrument and percussion that comes in a set of four. Their percussion comprises scrap metal, stone, and wood, all of which float on foam slabs. They begin and then go on for the next hour playing the composition of Scott Fields. The music on christangelfox is influenced by Asian cultures, but as Fields notes in the liner notes, that intention is not formal. But it does give a pith and air to the process, whether it be in the loop and swell of the cello from Matt Turner or the cry and plea that emanates from the clarinet of Guillermo Gregorio. And Fields lets his guitar lilt on a classical progression or lets the notes thrill to a flamenco rhythm to lend a different dimension. There is plenty of interaction and conversation. The devolution takes some nice turns and twists, even if much of it is essayed in an equable atmosphere. But it is in this environ that they thrive and give vent to their imaginations. There are moments, though, when they ruffle the calm, and while it is just a passing thought, it does bring in a likeable ruffle. One of them comes around the 26th minute, when the metal and the wood percussion gets into an animated discussion while Gregorio curls, twists and blows breathy notes. In tandem they create one of the more breathtaking moments on the record. Despite its length, and given that this is one continuous performance, it holds interest. —   Jerry D’Souza, All About Jazz



Chicago-based guitarist Scott Fields most   successful projects, such as Mamet (Delmark, 2001), and Beckett (Clean Feed, 2007), offer a novel merger of structured improvisation inspired by literary sources, this album included. Recorded in 1997 and previously available only on Fields’ own tiny Geode label, this session sat dormant for ten years before this Clean Feed reissue.

Dénouement features a unique double ensemble; two electric guitar trios playing in tandem, but rarely in unison. In 1997, Fields’ working trio consisted of bassist Hans Sturm and drummer Hamid Drake. Fellow Midwesterners, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Michael Zerang pilot the second trio with guitarist Jeff Parker. Five years before his solo debut, Like-Coping (Delmark, 2003), Parker demonstrates the lyrical finesse and adventurous risk-taking that has brought him acclaim as part of the new Chicago scene.

Using multiple pitch sets and compound rhythmic figures to create an off-kilter sensibility, Fields creates a complex mosaic of contrapuntal lines and cross-rhythms. Modulating dynamics with nuance and relaxed pacing, the ensemble meanders from austere chamber-esque duets exploring pointillist dialogue to dense collective passages that unfurl knotty tendrils of abstruse commentary fueled by angular, interlocking rhythms. To his credit, these layered compositions feel unforced, belying their structural intricacy.

Intertwining with graceful subtlety, the two trios navigate similar paths without drifting in cacophonous discourse. Drake and Zerang’s elastic rhythms skirt between skittering harmonic accents and fulminating energy, while Roebke and Sturm occasionally alternate techniques, bowing fractured double stops and sonorous arco glisses or plucking metered pizzicato.

Fields and Parker offer a kaleidoscopic array of scintillating tonal colors and subtle electronic textures. Less EFX dependent than many electric guitarists, they rely on sensitivity of touch and phrasing for their sound, rather than twiddling knobs on stomp boxes. Employing a variety of approaches, from pensive, linear patterns to blistering fretwork exuding jittery bursts of atonality, they complement and contrast each other with remarkable restraint and a seething undercurrent of roiling energy.

Fields’ darkly humorous song titles allude to the uncertain resolutions of morose, convoluted narratives, much like his own compositions. Intricate, but not overly esoteric, Dénouement is a welcome reissue and a high water mark in Fields’ varied discography. — Troy Collins,   All About Jazz



An austere chamber-like atmosphere informs   most of the numbers, augmented by the metallic amplification of the guitars and the muted contrasts between percussion and strings. Together the six move over an angular landscape of fractured melodic fragments, skittering harmonics and lopingly morose themes pausing along the way to sculpt a strong succession of enigmatic improvisations. Those who value music that challenges and incites rumination will find a great deal to decipher in the riddles of Field’s sound collages. — Derek Taylor,   All About Jazz



Overall, Hornets Collage is lyrical,   enduring, spacious yet subtly captivating as the Trio pursue layered themes and sweet-tempered choruses while the music breathes life and conjures up vivid imagery proportionate to an impressionist painter of landscapes or dreams…. Hornets Collage is an authentic synthesis of interminable patterns as the musicians keenly and vividly conceptualize the notions of nature, hard at work. Recommended! **** — Glenn Astarita,   All About Jazz

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