scott fields

Scott Fields, musician


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 — All Music Guide

This That

First of all, This That is an unlikely release for the San Diego-based avant-garde label Accretions, because Scott Fields has no ties with the “Trummerflora Collective.” That being said, label director Marcos Fernandes took a wise decision to release this very strong CD. For this studio recording, the Scott Fields Ensemble was a trio, cellist Peggy Lee and drummer Dylan van der Schyff (both from Vancouver, Canada) following the guitarist in a series of structured improvisations. This match-up proves to be particularly successful. Lee and Schyff know each other by heart, their chemistry has reached a commanding level. Moreover, Fields’ loose compositions and penned-down segments are stylistically closely related to the projects they were involved with during the 1990s, from Talking Pictures to François Houle and Tony Wilson’s groups. So This Thatends up sounding like a cousin of the Vancouver avant-garde jazz scene. Some of these tracks follow specific contrasts, textures, or structures, while others have written heads. But the compositional work usually remains seamless (except for the obvious tutti lines). Fields is in very good shape. His dislocated melodies find a sympathetic soul in Lee’s lyrical cello playing in “That Isn’t This.” In “This Isn’t That” he throws in an impressive solo. This That may not have a star-studded line-up like Five Frozen Eggs (with Marilyn Crispell and Hamid Drake), but it sure delivers the goods — and if you have never heard the free improv unit of Lee and Schyff, this is your chance. Strongly recommended. — All Music Guide