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Samuel is the follow-up to  the Scott Fields Ensemble’s 2007 release Beckett on the Clean Feed label. Both albums feature Scott Fields’ compositions based on plays by Samuel Beckett. Not “inspired by,” but “based on”; Fields derives his scores (pitches, chords, rhythms, etc.) from the author’s words and narrative devices. At least, that is what the liner notes state. Clearly, Fields is not using these processes as the be-all and end-all of his music, which transcends such preparations. The listener hears little of that in the music itself and, if he or she chooses to bypass the liner notes, will not pick up on it. Fascinating as it may be, these processes don’t get in the way of what turns out to be three highly complex compositions of avant-garde jazz, for lack of a better term. The composed aspect of the music is obvious, even though free improvisation plays a key part in the proceedings: unisons and stop-go cues abound, harmonic material is developed much too subtly and delicately to not have been planned ahead, heads pop up in unlikely places. We are somewhere between the large-scale compositions of U.K. bassist Simon H. Fell (mostly his Compilation series) and John Zorn’s contemporary classical works. “Ghost Trio” has a slightly jazzier feel while “Eh Joe” is a bit more abstract at first, but all three pieces (the other one is titled “Not I”) have one foot in free jazz, the other in non-idiomatic improvisation, and a third one (oh, it’s unique enough to have grown a third foot) in a still little-charted territory of very serious non-classical modern composition — akin to Fred Frith or Jean Derome’s most ambitious works. Tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert often assumes the lead melody, with Fields counterpointing on the electric guitar (his interventions sound random at first, but close listening quickly reveals an inner logic). Scott Roller shifts back and forth between a bassist’s role and a soloist’s role. Drummer John Hollenbeck is mostly playing in free improvisation mode, with short episodes of swing, and a noticeable rock-out passage toward the end of “Eh Joe” where he gets to use the kind of chops his Claudia Quintet is based on. Samuel is not an easy record, but the level of musicianship, composition, and ensemble playing commands respect, admiration, and an award. It is also quite addictive, as each listen reveals new details of the work’s architecture. 4½ stars — François Couture,   All Music Guide



Look for the probable in Scott  Fields’ work and prepare yourselves to bang your head hard, for a record like Samuel — the successor to Beckett on Clean Feed — is designed to pose questions, not answer them. The lone certainty derived from weeks of attentive scrutiny is the acceptance of my fraught ignorance, already creeping through my brain after having read Dan Warburton’s über-detailed liners, which explain this music — and perhaps Fields’s art at large — better than if you spoke with the man himself. Then came the actual sonic content, completely scored by attributing parts of the celebrated playwright’s texts to specific instruments (the ensemble comprises saxophonist Matthias Schubert, cellist Scott Roller and percussionist John Hollenbeck) and — in live performances — putting the sounds in conjunction with an exact lighting plan depending on the interplay’s ever-changing dynamics.

Each of the three movements is terrific per se, due to a series of different aspects. “Not I” is so technically problematical and frenziedly arrhythmic in its development that the only way in which this writer managed to welcome and somehow digest that composite flux was a hint of silently convulsive tap dancing during the routine morning wait for the train to Rome. Unpredictable changes of accent and systematic disintegration of tonality connected to noises, gestures and faces, knottily interrelated outbursts in which the single parts occasionally seem slightly off beam, whereas everything obeys instead to an dispassionate yet enlivening logic. The leader’s elegantly malicious guitar is more in evidence in the subsequent “tunes”, “Ghost Trio” and “Eh Joe”, both moderately akin to jazz ballads in a way — the kind of “jazz” that is not taught at Berklee — but with such a number of false starts and hiccupping cadenzas that might cause a careless listener to feel seasick. The musicians splinter every available paragraph while sidestepping stylistic blatancy throughout, providing us with continuous demonstrations of their incredibly responsive commitment to the music. If Fields didn’t manage to “work on the nerves of the audience”, he surely succeeded in making this reviewer’s stab at depicting this document appear fairly laughable. One and a half upturned nose, all being well. — Massimo Ricci,   Touching Extremes



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



Scott Fields’ music prompts questions,  usually quickly: Where’s the line between the bold conceptions and the meticulous execution? Between the composer and the improviser? Between the jazz and what’s beyond category? Much to the guitarist’s credit, the answers are almost always elusive, as is the case with Samuel, Fields’ second collection of compositions drawn from the texts of Samuel Beckett. Given that, as measured in discographical time, the album comes on the heels of Beckett — the 2006 Clean Feed collection also featuring Fields’ quartet with tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert, cellist Scott Roller and percussionist John Hollenbeck — spinning this more innocuously titled album without making the connection is not surprising. The music is sufficiently compelling to initially keep the booklet with Dan Warburton’s informative notes off to the side. The quartet has an incisive bead on the material; their ensembles are bristling; and their ability to sustain the finely calibrated development of the materials in three contrasting pieces of 20 to 25 minutes in duration reflects an exemplary, collectively honed discipline. Sure, knowing Fields painstakingly ascribed pitch and duration values to Beckett’s texts facilitates a fuller reception of the work; yet, it is not required to dig the jagged and jangling materials. It certainly explains the ensemble’s aversion to lustrous decay; in conveying the bluntness of expression fundamental to Beckett’s texts, their dampened attack and clipped phrases establishes a temperamental continuity that is as essential to the music as adherence to the scores and the parameters for improvisation. This tints materials that would otherwise be more easily compared to the graying generation of Midwestern structuralist composers (although Fields has lived in Cologne since 2003, Chicago is still discernable in his music). Still, the ensemble’s fastidiousness in articulating Fields’ compositions does not diminish the individualism of the players; on the contrary, these are among the more engaging performances to date by Fields himself and by Schubert and Hollenbeck, the more widely documented of his cohorts (the guitarist-like dexterity of Roller’s pizzicato always prompts a desire to hear more). This is another significant recording by Fields. — Bill Shoemaker,   Point of Departure



Sain vähän aikaa sitten jotenkuten  päätä sekoittaneen Phillip Johnstonin erikoisen levyn selvitettyä, kun käsiini tuli toinen saman tyylinen nikkaroitavaksi. Mikäpä siinä, olen aina ollut erikoisuuksien tavoittelija. Joskus se vain tuntuu niin vaikealta. Voimakasrakenteinen raaka free on omiaan meikäläiselle. Se imee mukanaan. Scott Fieldsin kokoonpano ei kuitenkaan lupaa mitään tämän suuntaista. Sen voi havaita jo pelkästään katsomalla soitin yhdistelmää kokoonpanossa. Tiedossa on taiteellisesti sointujen ääripäiden hakemista. Musiikillinen kokonaisuus, jota ei voi kuunnella ohimennen toisella korvalla. Parempi on laittaa “lappuset” korville ja pakottaa itsensä syventymään saadakseen soittajien tavoittelemat tarkoitusperät selville. Raaka voima ja tempo siis puuttuvat tykkänään tästä “lättysestä”. Jonkinlaista sointien harmoniaa tästä kaikesta huolimatta voi lytää, mutta ei se nyt mitenkään svengaa. Svengiä saa kyllä hakemalla hakea. Kolmannen kappaleen “Eh Joe” aivan loppuosassa soitto kulkee tehoja lisäten ja selkeä freen voima tulee esiin. Siinä kohdassa voisi jopa sanoa, että nyt svengaa.

Levyn nimi “Samuel” viittaa Samuel Beckettiin, joka on ollut Scott Fieldsin musiikillisen ilmaisun inspiroija hänen aikaisemmalla “Beckett” albumilla. En kyllä mitenkään lydä sitä yhteyttä, mutta enpä silti ole Beckettin kirjalliseen tuotantoon myskään syventynyt. Tämä levyn sisältä on ammennettu lähinnä hänen näytelmäteoksista. On sanottu, että “Samuel Beckettin kirjalliset teokset näyttäytyvät abstrakteina heijastuksina Fieldsin sävellyksissä, joissa Ensemblen musiikillinen runous yhdistyy rikkaaseen dynamiikkaan”. Niinpä niin, hienosti on sanottu, mutta äärimmäisen abstraktinen käsite. Itse en tällaista yhteyttä pysty lytämään. Sävellykset ovat käsittämättmiä, epähavainnollisia, puhtaasti ajatuksellisia, joista en lydä konkreettista pohjaa. Tässä kuljetaan hämärän rajamailla, missä improvisoidun ja kirjoitetun musiikin raja jää epäselväksi. Soittajat toimivat kuitenkin järjestäytyneesti ja soitto kulkee yhteen vakiintuneen kaavan mukaan. Se on kuitenkin varma, että yhdellä kuuntelulla tästä levystä ei saa paljoakaan irti.

Viidenkympin rajapyykin jo ylittänyt Scott Fields aloitteli itseoppineena rock muusikkona. Nykyään hänet tunnetaan parhaiten kitaristina, joka pyrkii sekoittelemaan sävellettyä musiikkia omintakeiseen itse kehitettyyn sävellajista toiseen siirtyvään kirjoitettuun musiikkiin, mikä on tullut hänen tavaramerkiksi aikaisemmista levytyksistä. Häntä voidaan nykyään pitää melko puhtaasti avant-garde jazzin ja kokeilevan uuden musiikin edustajana. Yhtye vieraili muuten juuri kesäkuun alussa Kerava Jazzeilla. Vahinko vaan, etten itse voinut lähteä Keravalle tänä vuonna, sillä kaikenlainen tällainen erikoisuus kiinnostaa ja konserttitilanne on aina oma lukunsa. Siellä se autenttisuus ja musiikillinen ilmaisu yleensä lytyvät aivan eri tavalla kuin levyiltä. — Jouko Kirstilä,   Jazzrytmit