scott fields

Scott Fields, musician

 

Ideally a piece of arts criticism can stand alone as a work of literature. Articles by masters such as David Denby (film) or Calvin Trillin (food) are engaging even to the reader who has no intention of consuming the product under review. For those who do choose to watch, read, eat, look at, or listen to the subject of a review, the criticism should deepen the experience of watching, reading, eating or whatever. 
 

It is a sacred duty to be a critic in any field. Not only can a critic affect the professional course of a musician’s life, the critic may actually affect how people listen to music. It is interesting and distressing that the potential importance of the critics’ role has no apparent relationship to their abilities or training. In fact, for many publications blogs the only qualification for a music critic is the willingness to be a music critic. The reason is economic. Many smaller publications offer only token payment. These hobbyist critics and perhaps even many of the pros do this work for the love of the music. They listen to staggering quantities of recordings. They write for near to nothing and then in their off hours blog and comment on blogs about the same stuff. God love them for that. 


The bigger publications pay better, of course, and their critics are more polished. But too often avant-jazz critics are stumped as to what to say. They rely on two common strategies. The first is simple affect. “I liked this. I didn’t like that.” They function as a Consumer Reports for music. The other is to offer blow-by-blow descriptions of the music in allegorical language. “Lowe then enters like sparks careening from a welder’s torch. Reacting with alarm, Drake parries with snare-drum thunderclaps and floor-tom canon blasts. Soon…” and so on. 

Below each critic is evaluated for his or her body of work rather than for individual reviews. The rating system is divided into two components: reviewership and musicianship (where known), each on a scale of zero to five upturned noses. 

Why am I qualified to critique critics? As part of my graduate research I studied the topic of criticism and conducted experiments on how reading criticism affected listening. I have been reviewed and interviewed often enough to be exposed to some critics’ strengths and weaknesses (don’t get me started on, well just don’t get me started). And if they can, why can’t I?

 

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Russell Carlson

publications ➤ Jazz Times (associate editor), Harp (associate editor) 

personal contacts ➤ None

reviewed ➤ Song Songs Song, christangelfox, 15=15

bias ➤ Stylistically he stopped listening in 1955. Especially fond of pre-bop guitar virtuosos. He really really really hates my music. 

reviewership ➤ Loads his copy with so many cringe-inducing archaic hipster clichés that it is impossible to take his analysis seriously. 1.5 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ Appears to be a guitarist, but that’s all I know. Evaluation pending. 

aggregate rating ➤ 1.5 upturned noses
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John Corbett

publications ➤ DownBeat

personal contacts ➤ My trio was one of the first groups he booked into his Empty Bottle series. He is polite and intelligent and knowledgeable about many genres of music. No fan of mine, however. 

reviewed ➤ None

bias ➤ An academic who studied early free-jazz musicians for his doctoral work, Corbett has a love of outsider musicians and faux outsiders as well. 

reviewership ➤ Well informed but his prose is remarkably old-school for someone so smitten with the avant-garde. 3.5 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ Enthusiastic, but unskilled guitarist 1.5 upturned noses

aggregate rating ➤ 2.5 upturned noses
 
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Julian Cowley

publications ➤ The Wire

personal contacts ➤ One or two emails

reviewed ➤ this that, 96 Gestures, Dénouement, The Diary of Dog Drexel

bias ➤ Seems to prefer avant-jazz. 

reviewership ➤ Well-read, good writer. 4 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ Unknown

aggregate rating ➤ 4 upturned noses 
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Stefan Gijssels

publications ➤ Free Jazz Blogspot

personal contacts ➤ Two emails.

reviewed ➤ Bitter Love Songs, Drawings, Fugu, I Never Meta Guitar

bias ➤ It seems as though he listens primarily to rock and post-bop and he appears ignorant of New Music and Experimental Music. "The three great musicians of the last century all three came to their peak in the 60s: John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix. In the totality of human musical history, you can forget about the rest of twentieth century composers, but not those three.” 

reviewership ➤ Strong opinions and an absence of knowledge is a deadly combination. 2 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ Unknown

aggregate rating ➤ 2 upturned noses
 
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Walter Horn

publications ➤ Cadence

personal contacts ➤ Walter sent me an email when I accidentally credited one of his reviews to a different writer. Later he submitted one of his projects to my now-deceased label Geode. 

reviewed ➤ Sonotropism

bias ➤ A fan of and participant in avant-garde jazz and improvised music. 

reviewership ➤ Mean spirited and sometimes misinformed. 2 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ Judging from the one recording of his that I have heard, incompetent musician. 1.5 upturned noses

aggregate rating ➤ 2 upturned noses 
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Tom Hull

publications ➤ tomhull.com, appears to vote in several critics polls

personal contacts ➤ none

reviewed ➤ Bitter Love Songs, Fugu, Minaret Minuets, Moersbow/OZZO, Five Frozen Eggs

bias ➤ Unknown

reviewership ➤ He writes capsule reviews of a flood of submissions. The most unpalatable aspect of his reviews is his high-school grading system. (My lowest grade has been B+ and the highest has been A-.) That's even more sophomoric than upturned noses. He loses two upturned noses for repeatedly comparing me to Derek Bailey and half for calling Moersbow/OZZO "more pleasing than anyone would expect," which reveals that he didn't expect it to be pleasing. 2.5 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ unknown

aggregate rating ➤ 2.5 upturned noses
 
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Hugh Jarrid

publications ➤ Swingin’ Thing Magazine, Jazz Times

personal contacts ➤ Back when I was a young musician in Chicago and he was a mediocre drummer who had to pay real players out of his own pocket just to get a sideman gig, he claimed I stole his girlfriend. I only borrowed her for a few days, but I guess he figures he owes me one. 

reviewed ➤ Song Songs Song, From the Diary of Dog Drexel, 96 Gestures, this that, Mamet, Beckett, Bitter Love Songs

bias ➤ Likes finger snappin’and toe tappin’ 

reviewership ➤ Error filled, flaccid, over-alliterated copy. Zero upturned noses

musicianship ➤ Unspeakable drummer. Couldn’t count to four if you spotted him one, two, and three. Zero upturned noses

aggregate rating ➤ zero upturned noses
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Chris Kelsey

publications ➤ Jazz Times

personal contacts ➤ None

reviewed ➤ 48 Motive

bias ➤ A fan of and participant in modern and avant-garde jazz

reviewership ➤ He sometimes misses the forest for the trees when he focuses on technical ability of musicians rather than the music as a whole. But he is knowledgeable and generous. 3.5 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ Fine saxophonist. 4.5 upturned noses

aggregate rating ➤ 4 upturned noses
 
 
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Budd Kopman

publications ➤ All About Jazz

personal contacts ➤ We had a weird exchange. In his review of Song Songs Song he busted me for an error in my liner notes (I meant sharp 9 but wrote flat 9), but then erroneously said that a person I quoted (snidely, he says) “does not even know Fields.” She does and I told him, but he left the error posted. 

reviewed ➤ Song Songs Song

bias ➤ Unknown

reviewership ➤ He reviewed the CD in a vacuum, without listening to anything else of mine, and made several errors. But although he could have spent less time analyzing the liner notes, he seemed to grasp the music. 2.5 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ Appears to be a guitarist, but that’s all I know. Evaluation Pending. 

aggregate rating ➤ 2.5 upturned noses
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Jon Morgan

publications ➤ Signal to Noise, Cadence

personal contacts ➤ I met Jon when he contacted me for an interview. He stayed at my house overnight, talked to me for hours, until I refused to continue, and then told me that he didn’t have a publication for the story. He was just hoping to find one and never did. 

Some time later I invited him to watch my ensemble rehearse, record, and perform my composition “96 Gestures.” The idea wasn’t so much that he needed to write about the project, but that it would bring him in contact with the musicians, including Joseph Jarman, Myra Melford, Rob Mazurek, Matt Turner, Dylan van der Skyff, Francois Houle, and others. 

He didn’t take a single note during the five days that he observed us. He barely spoke to anyone. When he returned to Minneapolis he spammed all 13 of the musicians with a long questionnaire. The result was a flood of what-the-fuck? emails from the musicians to me. Nothing came of this visit either. 

A couple of years later Jon told Signal-to-Noise that he would write a profile of me and asked for a stack of my CDs they had in a queue to be reviewed. Did the same with Coda, but never wrote for either and both publications then couldn’t review the CDs because he wouldn’t return them. I will someday punch him on his upturned nose. 

reviewed ➤ Disaster at Sea, Five Frozen Eggs

bias ➤ Avant-garde jazz.

reviewership ➤ Ultimate slacker amateur. Would give him 0.5 upturned nose, but I’ll throw in an extra for the nice label he used to run. 1.5 upturned noses. 

musicianship ➤ Unknown

aggregate rating ➤ 1.5 upturned noses
 
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Harvey Pekar

personal contacts ➤ The late Harvey Pekar was one of the first national critics to review my music. We spoke on the phone several times and met once. Shortly before the movie based on his comic series, and so his life, American Splendor, was released, we spoke on the phone. I said that he must be excited. He said “I don’t know. I don’t see how I’ll make any money on it.” For his second review of one of my CDs, Fugu, he chewed out the community of Madison, Wisconsin, where I lived at the time, for insufficiently respecting and acknowledging my work. As it turned out, this was not an effective way to endear a musician to the local audience. 

reviewed ➤ Running with Scissors, Fugu, From the Diary of Dog Drexel, profile for Jazziz

bias ➤ Although Harvey was best known as writer of the American Splendor comic books and as the subject of the movie of the same name, and for his contentious appearances on the David Letterman Show, he was a long time jazz critic and collector. He had no apparent bias. 

reviewership ➤ For his pure, unsullied Harvey-ness 5 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ If he had been a musician, I think I would have read of it in American Splendor, but I don’t know for sure. 

aggregate rating ➤ 5 upturned noses
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Alexandre Pierrepont

publications ➤ Improjazz

personal contacts ➤ We have had pleasant email correspondence. Alexandre is also somehow connected to the French label, Rouge Art, which released my CD We Were The Phliks. 

reviewed ➤ Five Frozen Eggs, Sonotropism

bias ➤ Avant-garde jazz. 

reviewership ➤ Writes in a flowery, poetic style with great enthusiasm. 4 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ Unknown

aggregate rating ➤ 4 upturned noses
 
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Massimo Ricci

publications ➤ Touching Extremes, Paris Transatlantic Magazine

personal contacts ➤ We have had pleasant email exchanges. 

reviewed ➤ what we talk, Samuel, Fugu, Drawings, Scharfefelder, Beckett, Dénouement

bias ➤ Massimo appears to be open to anything new. 

reviewership ➤ Insatiable. On average, he produces 40 reviews a month but listens to 80. That may explain why his reviews are never brutally negative: he discards what he considers the chaff. He is well-informed and writes fluidly in what I assume is his second language. 4.5 upturned noses. 

musicianship ➤ Undocumented musician and composer. 4 upturned noses. 

aggregate rating ➤ 4.5 upturned noses
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Alexander Schmitz

publications ➤ Jazz Podium, Just Jazz Guitar

personal contacts ➤ Emails and he interviewed me for articles in Jazz Podium and Just Jazz Guitar. 

reviewed ➤ Fugu, Minaret Minuets, Kintsugi, Frail Lumber, OZZO/Moersbow, Everything is in the Instructions

bias ➤ None, other than an interest in guitar. 

reviewership ➤ From what I can make out from the German, he understands the music and has a deep love for it. Clearly he is a fan. 4.5 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ Skilled jazz guitarist. 5 upturned noses

aggregate rating ➤ 4.75 (rounded up to 5) upturned noses

 

 
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Derek Taylor

publications ➤ One Final Note, Cadence. Used to manage the blog/webzine Bagatellen

personal contacts ➤ We lived in Madison, Wisconsin at the same time for a few years and worked together in a non-profit jazz support organization. 

reviewed ➤ Dénouement, Hornets Collage, Bitter Love Songs, We Were The Phliks

bias ➤ Fond of downtown improvisers. 

reviewership ➤ Too nice to be a critic. Well-listened but inadequate analysis. Flabby writing. 3 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ Derek says he was once a mediocre bassist. Taking his word, 1.5 upturned noses

aggregate rating ➤ 2.5 upturned noses

 

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Dan Warburton

publications ➤ Paris Transatlantic Magazine, The Wire, Signal to Noise

personal contacts ➤ Emails, he wrote the liner notes for my CD Samuel and interviewed me for that. 

reviewed ➤ From the Diary of Dog Drexel, Beckett

bias ➤ Favors the avant-garde

reviewership ➤ Ludicrously qualified, skilled writer, honest. 5 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ Fine violinist, composer, and improviser, Masters degree in music. 5 upturned noses

aggregate rating  ➤ 5 upturned noses
 
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Ken Waxman

publications ➤ Jazzword.com

personal contacts ➤ Ken and his wife, Susan O’Connor, met with me for coffee in Cologne. The second time I asked why we were meeting, whether he was working on an article about me. I also snapped at him for joking about my music. 

reviewed ➤ Bitter Love Songs, Music for the radio show, This American Life, Beckett (his #5 CD for 2008), From the Diary of Dog Drexel, We Were the Phliks, Mamet, Moersbow/OZZO

bias ➤ Avant-garde jazz

reviewership ➤ Well-listened, good-hearted, but a reputation for making up facts. 3.5 upturned noses

musicianship ➤ unknown

aggregate rating ➤ 3.5 upturned noses
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Kevin Whitehead

publications ➤ Fresh Air

personal contacts ➤ We have met in passing a few times and he was civil, but he seems to harbor deep anger about something. 

reviewed ➤ None

bias ➤ New jazz that swings, especially from Europeans. Has written at length about the Dutch avant-scene. 

reviewership ➤ Well-informed, well-written, with hints of snottyness. 4 upturned noses. 

musicianship ➤ Average guitarist 2 upturned noses

aggregate rating ➤ 3 upturned noses

awaiting judgement