Bitter Love Songs
The Freetet is ostensibly Cologne-based guitarist Scott Fields’ “traditional blowing vehicle,” and Bitter Love Songsis 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. — All About Jazz
This may very well be the year that puts Chicago guitarist Scott Fields firmly on the improvisational map. His Clean Feed Records debut, Beckett, occupies a tense poise between measured and somewhat theatre-inspired movement and free immediacy. Joining him on the tightrope walk are percussionist John Hollenbeck, tenorman Matthias Schubert and cellist Scott Roller. On the heels of Beckett is the reissue of Dénouement, a double-trio recording initially waxed in 1997 for Fields’ tiny, now-defunct Geode label. He’s joined by guitarist Jeff Parker (here in a pre-Thrill Jockey guise), bassists Jason Roebke and Hans Sturm, and drummers Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang (who appeared with bassist Michael Formanek on Fields’ excellent Delmark disc Mamet).
Fields characterizes the music as “the bastard child of King Sunny Adé and Ornette Coleman” and he might not be incorrect in that assertion. Luckily not recorded in mono, each trio is audible in separate yet interweaving channels, Fields, Sturm and Drake on the right and Parker, Roebke and Zerang on the left. From the opening plinks and strums of “Her Children,” plaintive and nearly detuned, Parker and Fields underpin, addend and fragment their own dialogue, a delicate conversation in language about to collapse on itself. Pulled out from dissipation by a seemingly abrupt arrival at martial swing, the twin rhythm sections offer a steadily oppositional groove, basses and guitars walking in contrasts and a unison of throaty grasps, linked mostly by absence. After all, one reason for using two bassists or drummers in opposing rhythms is that the contrast will, rather than stagnate create a third and less deterministic pulse, stemming from “both” and “neither.”
Like musical forebears the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, these lengthy improvisations (albeit with brief written signposts) should be taken as a whole, with individual areas popping out and grabbing one’s senses — dueling arco-ponticello basses catch the ear mightily, percussion hanging overhead in implied fits of near-waltz as Fields and Parker skitter from the front porch to somewhere way, way underground. A charged, fuzzy rock phrase is worried in damning repetition, Sharrock-like overtones brought out as basses, toms and a second guitar both goad and placate. It’s the simultaneity of sounds, phrases and rhythms and their conflicted outcomes — or, rather, the space between these things — that makes Fields’ ensembles work. Luckily for us, this early example of his music is available again. — Paris Transatlantic Magazine