everything is in the instructions
what we talk
Music for the radio program This American Life
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Best Album of 2002 Playwrite
David Mamets works inspire the music here hence the presence of tunes called American Buffalo and Oleanna. But Fields precise motivation is less important than the work itself. With bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Michael Zerang, this gifted guitarist constructs open-ended, freeform soundscapes filled with noises that are alternatively weird, discomfiting, and stimulating. Michael Roberts, Jazziz
Cloistered in Wisconsin, guitarist Scott
Fields devises new ways of structuring improvisation. In a string of unjustly overlooked CDs, hes experimented with groups of varying configurations. This incarnation of Fields ensemble is a good introduction to his music, in part because it showcases his thoughtful, probing guitar solos in a trio setting. Inspired by playwright David Mamet, this project uses the atmospheres, dramatic interactions and texts from five plays to guide the soloists. Fields goes so far as to incorporate Mamets dialogue into his instrumental scores, and to assign dramatic roles to each musician. The strategy demands, and obtains, expressive, vocal performances from bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Michael Zerang.
On The Woods, listen to the give-and-take between Fields guitar and Formaneks bass, which voice the female and male leads, respectively. Fields guitar solos pass through a pleading blues twang to sputtering anger, culminating in howls of anguish. Without in-depth knowledge of the plays or the scores, its impossible to assess how closely the trio captures the meaning or rhythms of Mamets dialogue. The performances are so good that it shouldnt matter. four stars! Jon Andrews, Downbeat
On Mamet guitarist Scott Fields
takes poignant moments from five David Mamet plays and sets them to music, making full use of the playwrights penchant for exaggerated linguistic rhythm to fire the structure and dynamics of these songs. The concept will likely be too cerebral for some (isnt 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 Mamets dialogue-driven scenes. Fieldss 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 dont dare to go. Tad Hendrickson, CMJ New Music Report
His solo technique is somewhat
like the David Mamet plays that Fields uses as his inspiration for the CDs titles: Mamets characters often converse in brief, elliptical dialogues that circle back on each other like Abbott and Costello doing heavy drama. Unlike Mamets 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 its 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. Christopher Porter, Jazz Times
On the surface, this is
probably the most conventional instrumentation that Fields has used for one of his ensembles. But like a director casting a play, he has carefully chosen his co-conspirators. Formanek is a fantastically inventive bass player. He is on equal footing throughout; flexibly adjusting his playing and interaction to the flow of the piece. At times he is the aggressive lead voice, at others a dynamic sparring partner for Fields. His resonating plucked lines and booming arco fill out what might otherwise be a spare setting. Zerang is a colorist, setting the timbres and textures for the dialog of bass and guitar. This in no way suggests that he is relegated to a supporting role. Instead, he fills out the ensemble with his limber, pointillistic percussion; moving from pinpoint attack to pummeling cascades to propel the improvisations. Fields has a quirky sound, shaping his lines with clean intonation and angular intervalic jumps, at times filled out with a subtle use of real-time sampling to layer multiple lines. The three players use the compositional framework as a motivic framework for elastic interaction full of finely detailed interplay. Quiet, intensely abstract lyricism can lead to thorny, clashing thunder. If one is familiar with the way that Mamet constructs his dialogs and uses tension and release in the development of his plays, it is possible to discern those influences. Though it provides an intriguing layer, it is hardly essential to hearing what is going on here. Instead, Fields has used the sources to create compositional frameworks for open-form improvisation. Even without the knowledge of the underlying basis for the pieces, this trio music is a compelling example of probing group interchange. Michael Rosenstein, Cadence Magazine
Despite the potentially clunky concept
the compositions inspired by the plays of David Mamet Chicagoan guitarist Scott Fields, here flanked by bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Michael Zerang, confounds expectations with a really listenable and inventive approach to group explorations. His score alternates bursts of Mamet dialogue with sections of directed improvisation. The group intone their lines like actors, mumbling phrases and snapping back in argument. Mamets writing is very aware of rhythms in speech patterns most evident in the cyclical despair of American Buffalo. Fittingly enough, that play fuels one of the trios most swinging takes, moving into protorock territory that at points sounds like TNT-period Tortoise. The Woods starts quietly, subtly droning and chattering with a section meant to evoke dusk near a pond in a Midwest forest with its crickets and loons and raccoons and wind rustling through the trees
. Tension builds and spills into violence, the group slamming straight into a wall of dead feedback, while a despairing undercurrent breaks and submerges the players. David Keenan, The Wire
Arguably the Anthony Braxton of
the guitar, Scott Fields is among avant-garde jazzs 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 Chicagos 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 Mamets plays when he composed instrumentals like Oleanna, The Woods, and American Buffalo. But one doesnt have to be an expert on Mamets work to appreciate this excellent release. And, for that matter, being a lover of Mamets plays doesnt 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 youre 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. Alex Henderson, All Music Guide
Todays hustle-bustle, no-time-for-mama world is
a far too busy a place for serious reading. Realizing that there are many, and, lets be frank here, possibly an infinite number of, great literary works whose pages I will never have the time, however desired, to peruse, it was with eager hope that I laid Scott Fields disc Mamet und mien plattenspieler. You see, Fields advertises his CD as a kind of play on disc, through which he hopes allow busy literati to speed listen to great word works. In this case he has condensed five of the great Chicago playwright David Mamets dramatic masterpieces to their instrumental essence. His scheme was to remove the words themselves, distilling the plays to raw emotion and scenario-atic movement, replacing English dialog with the universal language of music.
But with each passing guitar bar, with each incomprehensible thumping contrabass contribution, with each percussive phrase, my disappointment grew. As much as I tried to grasp Mamets meaning, the meandering musical misrepresentation of this giant of the American stage and movie house left my eyes glazed and my mind muddled. One cannot grasp even the barest of scene changes, or the movement from one act to the next, let alone the meaning of master Mamets universal utterances. Reading the script of American Buffalo while listening the identically titled track on Fields fraud was little help. In a final act of desperation, I viewed the video version of Oleanna (starring the multi-faceted William Macy, who although not in the fine form he displayed as The Shoveler in Mystery Men, gives a stirring performance) while listening to Fields version. Not only was the musical condensation out of sync with the video, which we know was the correct interpretation since it was directed by David Mamet himself, but it drowned out the dialog. My advice? If you want to bone up on these plays, rent the videos. Fields may have brazenly branded his plays on disc M-A-M-E-T, but a more appropriate spelling would have been F-A-I-L-U-R-E. Hugh Jarrid, Swingin Thing Magazine
Self proclaimed programmatic music, Mamet
is a series of interlocking compositions guided by five of the plays written by American playwright David Mamet. Mamet, the wordsmith, is notorious for the care he puts into the cadences of his dialogue and Madison, Wisc.-based guitarist Scott Fields has tried to reflect both the words and the structure of the plays in his tunes.
How well does he succeed? Quite well in a musical sense, since the improvisations created by the guitarist and his helpmates Chicago drummer Michael Zerang and New York bassist Michael Formanek could certainly stand on their own. But whether each properly reflects the dramatic work its supposed to represent is more of a moot point. Keeping in mind that the guitar here represents Mamets female characters and the bass his male ones helps prolong the idea.
An almost 22 minute tour-de-force and the longest track on the disc The Woods goes the farthest towards reifying Fields thesis. Depicting a two-character play that simmers with an undercurrent of suppressed violence which finally explodes in the final scene, the sounds move from nearly inaudible at the beginning to arena rock level at the end. Beginning with hushed bass notes, percussion clicks and the odd guitar lick, a cowbell suggests the rural setting. Following the original melancholy theme, all bowed bass and cymbal runs, a bass drum wash and cymbal swish introduces the guitar, which becomes louder as the seconds tick by. This lyrical guitar section is supposed to reflect the female characters hope that her relationship will last, but a deep, dark, masculine bass solo seems to foreshadow its doom. Finally, after harsh guitar notes which are offered up like dagger thrusts, a furious physical fight is depicted. Fields concentrates his repeated held notes on staccato screeches and the savagery of Jimi Hendrix-style feedback. All three musicians operate at magnified fortissimo for a while until the melancholy theme returns at the conclusion.
One of Mamets most famous works, Oleanna, about the transformation of a power relationship between a female student and a male professor, thrives in this setting as well. With Zerangs percussion keeping things moving in the background, over the course of the tune Fields guitar lines gradually gain in the strength and intensity as Formaneks bass moves from a strong bowed part to short, deep, plucked notes which almost slow to stasis.
Reflecting sameness in tempo and atmosphere, the other tracks are less satisfactory, but that perhaps may be a function of Mamets themes rather than Fields conceptions. Still, trying to relate Zerangs percussion to playing cards being dealt or money jingling on Prairie Du Chien may be too much of a stretch especially for those who havent seen the play.
Held to a different standard than the usual guitar, bass and drums work out, Fields has to be commended for his imagination as well as for what he has produced. Convincingly, for the greatest part of the discs, the musicians have used their skills to put remarkable improvised flesh on the programmatic compositional bones.
Exploring an unusual musical byway, Fields has created a disc that can be thought about as well as heard. Ken Waxman, Jazz Word
Mamet is another one which
shrieks concept. This time, a musical pendant to the eponymous playwrights work. Slow, dense and effortful, its hardly an enlightening or even very involving listen. 2½ stars (of four). Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, seventh edition