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This album does not reveal   its secrets easily. The proceedings start slowly and sparsely enough, but, very quickly, we are thrust headlong into a densely packed quartet of intense contrapuntal improvisations, full of long blisteringly fast lines. The occasional rhythms prevail, but they are quickly usurped by further post-post-Bop interregistral runs.

The results are initially exhausting, and on first listen, Thomas Lehn and Xu Fengxia provide the only relief in the form of varied texture. Lehn’s synthwork has always been a pleasure to hear, endlessly inventive and compatible with almost anything. Xu Fengxia is new to me, but her work here is brilliant, exhibiting the best timbral traits of European improv peppered with what I can only describe as touches of pan-ethnicity. Sudden shifts in volume, pitch, and duration make her contributions forceful but beautiful.

Only the final track presents some welcome moments of repose, and, I might add, some of the most intricate and gorgeous group improv on the disc. Long drones swell, shimmer and fade, guitar gliding in softly to obscure itself in saxophone shadows. When the lines return, they are slow, almost languid, the players seemingly more willing to accommodate space.

As interesting and engaging as these pieces ultimately can be, Fields’ playing strikes me as too similar throughout. Perhaps it’s just a sound I don’t like, or with which I need more acquaintance, but almost constant runs executed in a very homogeneous timbral spectrum don’t help matters. The fourth piece in particular holds incredible promise, for all members of the ensemble, and I hope that this group will continue exploring in that direction. — Marc Medwin,   Cadence Magazine



Guitarist Scott Fields points out   in the liner notes to his latest record We Were The Philks: “It is my habit to set myself some rules for each project I compose. Otherwise the world is just too big for me. For my contributions to The Phliks book I made myself a rule that every tune would include traditional notation, graphical notation, and improvisation. In the Phliks pieces I would blur the distinction between notated and improvised material.” When one listens to the 70-minute work, a distinct sense of confusion comes about. What is composed and what is improvised? Then again, when the music is this solid, does it really matter? Fields has assembled a stellar cast for the project. His ensemble includes Thomas Lehn on analogue synth, Matthias Schubert on tenor sax and Xu Fengxia on guzheng. Fields’ music sparkles with an unspoken intensity. While his guitar hums with electric sparkles, put together with Xu Fengxia’s distinct hollow guzheng, it is a killer. Add to this Schubert’s intensely satisfying tenor gale blows and Lehn’s other-worldly synth slabs and you’ve got yourself a tight band kicking up a storm. As the sounds alternate between more serene passages and those that simply rock, the music moves in a natural, nearly cyclical way. If there is one factor that sticks out of the mix, it’s got to be Thomas Lehn and his squeaky synth. In applying simple pressure tactics, he often times convinces the other players to follow along into alien territories he favours to tread. Wildly satisfying record from beginning to end. — Tom Sekowski,   Gaz-Eta



Scott Fields posits a somewhat   idiosyncratic attitude toward musical partnerships. He takes his time and isn’t averse to what at first may seem like incongruous collaborations. This new Rogue Art release corroborates that characterization with what might be first in terms of instrumentation. On paper, the combination of electric guitar, tenor saxophone, analog synth and guzheng might seem an oil and water proposition, but Fields balances notation with improvisation over four long pieces and ably proves its viability. Each piece appears to be named after friends and patrons of the four.

The disc title refers indirectly to a phenomena often cited by Fields where bands in which he is involved commonly coalesce under his umbrella ensemble rubric. The shift in this case came not from a domineering sense of self-importance, but a gradual realization of Fields as focal point for the group. Thomas Lehn frequently acts as agent provocateur, his synth set-up the most mutable in terms of accessing taxonomically unfamiliar sounds. At times he swirls and eddies around the fringes, inserting gurgles and blips amidst the others’ more circumscribed interplay. In other spots, as on the opening of “Brad and Laura Winter” he surges into pole position, sounding a bit like Sun Ra behind a phalanx of buttons and keys and building a pump-organ-meets-calliope chorus in concert with Fengxia that in a weird way recalls the darker carny side of Tom Waits.

Mattias Schubert is similarly liberal in his palette on sax, moving from cottony breath sounds to skirling cries and even relatively straight melodic statements. As the strings contingent Fields and Fengxia make for a consistently catalytic pairing, the latter moving from fragments of Chinese melodies to spates of kitchen-utensils-on-iron-grate dissonance while Fields plays everything from faux classical patterns to hook-toothed blues arpeggios. Lulls do occur, but rarely for very long and each of pieces achieves a pleasingly organic tractability. Variety is the spice and the four pack plenty in. A word too to Fields clipped cadence liners which are as clever, whimsical and self-deprecating as ever and an apposite appendix to the music. — Derek Taylor,   Bagatellen



Utilizing the textures available from   one instrument which assumed its modern form sometime between the 10th and the 15th century and another 20th century invention considered antique because it’s merely analogue, guitarist Scott Fields has created an almost 70½-minute CD that’s as audacious as it is rewarding.

Naturally being improvised music, We Were The Phliks also depends on the interpretive skills of the four players as much as the graphical or conventional notation Fields uses for these four long pieces. A mixture of experiences and cultures, the players are Fields, the Chicago-born guitarist who has lived in Köln, Germany for the past few years; two German-born Köln residents: tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert and analogue synthesizer player Thomas Lehn; plus Xu Fengxia, a native of Shanghai, who now lives in Hövelhof and plays the guzheng, a large Chinese zither whose most familiar shape was established by the 15th century.

All the players are open to new experiences however. Fields, whose collaborators have ranged from fellow guitarist Jeff Parker to oboist Kyle Bruckmann, and Schubert, who is part of a co-op trio with tubaist Carl-Ludwig Hübsch and trombonist Wolter Wierbos, manipulate traditional jazz instruments to this end. Lehn, whose extended wires and in-put plugs characterize his axe of choice as a pre-1980s model, often plays with fellow sound explorers like saxophonist John Butcher. As well, despite her instrument’s antiquity, Xu has recorded with Free players such as percussionist Roger Turner.

Operating in non-traditional territory, the sounds created here don’t replicate expected timbres anyhow. Xu’s guzheng vibrations sometimes resemble those of a double bass or a banjo; Schubert is as likely to output wispy flutters and tongue slaps as honks and legato runs; and Lehn’s synthesizer does double duty as an electronic keyboard and to trigger otherworldly oscillations and drones. While Fields does comp, his licks would never be confused with those of Barney Kessel.

At points in fact, settling on a fashion in which to simultaneously interact with Schubert’s altissimo squeaks, Xu’s triple-stopping banjo-like peals and Lehn’s disconnected electronic pulses, the guitarist tries out crunchy, downward string trebles that balance between Bluegrass runs and Hawaiian echoes.

When the sonic diffusion among the four doesn’t evolve in rondo-like fashion, it does so in dual counterpoint. For instance the pleasantness of Xu’s chromatic plinks and plunks is contrasted with Fields’ staccato reverb; or Lehn’s vibrating electronic drones are texturally contrasted with Schubert’s trilling smears. Elsewhere, distortions from the two electrified instruments create cumulative, polyphonic crackles and sputters. In still other spots, the saxophone’s twittering phrasing turns tenderly legato, while the guzheng’s zither-like qualities disappear into lute-like glissandi.

Each player’s techniques and ruses protrude with structured logic during the more than 24½ minutes of “Assi Glöde.” Stuttering barks triggered from the synthesizer, plus distorted chording and stop-time rasgueado from the guitar escalate to contrapuntally contrast with Schubert’s irregularly paced growls and Xu’s chromatic plectrum plucks.

Midway through, while the guzheng player’s abrasively flat picks, the reedist’s fluttering vibrations and split tones are shadowed by overlaid, distorted guitar runs. Soon with the combined pulsations making up a continuous electro-acoustic background, single reed puffs move to the foreground. Eventually, a new passage of motor-driven oscillations from Lehn encourages Fields to abandon single-stroke licks to create a throbbing crescendo of sprawling multiphonics. That is quickly amplified by Schubert’s reed snorts and spetrofluctuation. With the climax attained, a few final saxophone breaths and echoing guitar fills confirm the piece’s conclusion.

On earlier CDs, Fields has celebrated such accomplished literary figures as American playwright David Mamet and Irish dramatist Samuel Becket. Featuring this unique mixture of almost ancient, near-modern and contemporary textures, the oddly titled CD’s literary precedent could be a time-shifting science fiction novel that intersects concepts of past, present and future. Overall, We Were The Phliks is definitely a good read…that is listen. — Ken Waxman,   Jazzword