Bitter Love Songs
Mordant wit and caustic self-deprecation have always been reliable elements in Scott Fields’ creative expression. From the pithy brickbats of semi-fictional critic Hugh Jarrid to the admirable, if puzzling, practice of publishing pans right alongside praises on his website, the guitarist has never shied away presenting the whole package of his persona, prickly pear portions and all. Even by Fields’ archly candid standards this new Clean Feed outing stands out. His liners read as a suite-like screed, pillorying a succession of unnamed assailants to his temper and patience. He saves the strongest recriminations for last, directing black roses and dead rat vitriol at those who have wronged him in love. Track titles wryly embellish on the conceit, my personal favorite being “Your parents must be ecstatic now.” Despite the dour and potentially distracting emotional context, the set stays sharply on point throughout, though it’s hard to tell exactly how much of the acrimony is genuine and how much is amplified for show.
The music curiously recalls the early Nineties work of Joe Morris in its preference for pared down frills-free interplay. Jagged single note runs race regularly atop undulating bass and drums rhythms. Think Flip and Spike, and more specifically “Itan” and “Mombaccus,” and your close to the aural mark. Fields’ tone is often a bit rounder and cleaner than JoMo’s and that may be a function of the recording, but there’s a comparable frequency of densely knotted note clusters, spit out at staccato intervals. Bassist Sebastian Gramss and drummer João Lobo traffic in comparable agitation and irascibility, shading in the cracks around Fields’ chattery plectrum pings while still keeping the pieces intentionally off-kilter. It’s a dynamic intended to ape the disquieting feeling just prior to when one’s heart goes under the knife of betrayal and scorn. The pieces follow similar schemas until “I was good enough for you until your friends butted in” when the seething clouds break a bit into more spacious variation of melancholy. This is easily Fields most jazz-oriented album in many moons and a welcome fang-fringed spin on familiar forms. — Bagatellen
We Were the Phliks
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. — Bagatellen
An austere chamber-like atmosphere informs most of the numbers, augmented by the metallic amplification of the guitars and the muted contrasts between percussion and strings. Together the six move over an angular landscape of fractured melodic fragments, skittering harmonics and lopingly morose themes pausing along the way to sculpt a strong succession of enigmatic improvisations. Those who value music that challenges and incites rumination will find a great deal to decipher in the riddles of Field’s sound collages. — All About Jazz
A chamber music delicacy in the improvisations cloaks an underlying incisiveness, which in turn cleaves cleanly through airs of pretension. Roebke’s supple bass is the rhythmic fulcrum for the group. His crisply plucked lines ripple outward and surround the music in gentle waves of aqueous support. Field’s choice to employ only acoustic strings is essential to the group’s sonic palette. Even without the aid of amplification, he devises a startling display of guitar techniques, everything from jangling string-bending discord to dulcet lyricism. — Cadence Magazine