Of all atrocities committed by Hurricane Sandy, none was so vile as the confiscation of my Promising, Soon-to-Review stack of submitted CDs. These diamonds-in-the-rough waiting to be polished into gemstones by this skilled evaluator’s praise were stored at the ready by my writing desk. The unforgiving storm surge swept away these pearls, leaving behind only muck, some in the form of flood detritus and some, much more distressingly, in the form of the Clearly-Not-Fit-to-Hear, Avoid-Reviewing submitted CDs that accumulate in far corner of my crawl space, which the waters, unfortunately, could not penetrate.
You, my loyal reader, have undoubtedly noticed that my usually supportive writings, sprinkled only occasionally with instructions for how musicians can improve, have been recently markedly less positive. Immediately Post-Sandy the usual quality product could still be supplied as Swingin’ Thing Magazine and other fine publications burned through their Hugh Jarrid back stock. Then the castor oil had to be swallowed and the wrongly spared recordings endured.
When the least objectionable objects had passed through my analytical alimentary canal and I had flushed the (necessarily correction-packed) judgments to my editors, I pinned my nose, lit incense, and steeled myself to endure what I knew would be the stinkiest poostick of the surviving chaff: Scott Fields’ Frail Lumber on the Portuguese label NotTwo Records. Fields and I do have a history as recalcitrant subject and frustrated nurturer. But Fields has resisted my best-intended critical coaching and continues to excrete concepts that leave me chugalugging Pepto-Bismol.
My eye was immediately drawn to the presence of eight names on the CD jacket cover. On Fields’ preceding release, Merzbow Oslo, on the same label, the ensemble included 25 members, who almost entirely drowned out the leader’s pathetic plunking. My mind was dragged screaming back in time to Fields’ previous octet release, 48 Motives, in which his playing was almost equally unobtrusive. (Best of all, naturally, was the trio outing Bitter Love Songs, for which Fields employed superior axe-wielder Joe Morris to ghost-pluck the guitar parts, a ploy for which I praised him in a previous review.)
With trepidation I tore away the package’s plastic protection (if only it protected the potential patron and refused to yield) to gain access to the liner notes, often a music scribe’s only useful source of information. My eyes snapped immediately to the angelic profile of the Italian violinist, Jessica Pavone. This hot mamamia can stroke my G-string any time she wants. Once I had taken a few minutes to relieve my Pavone-induced tension, I reexamined my package. To my shock and horror, there were, count them, 4 violins, 2 violoncelli, and 2 guitars. In virtually all cases that is far too high of percentage of strings to jazz instruments for a proper jazz recording. Sure, Wes Montgomery’s and Charlie Parker’s finest outings including full string sections, but “section” is the operational word. The string SECTION is restricted to filling the spaces the soloists leave behind. My fear was that Fields had unleashed these strings, forcing them to run wild with individualistic idiomatic ideas and singular solos. Alas, the interior revealed only the Pavone pinup marred by the other musicians and, apparently, photoshopped pre- and post-SlimFast images of the leader. Certain that the liner notes appeared on an independently inserted sheet, I digitally probed the packaging and found only the disc. The notoriously tightwad label had stiffed the consumer by refusing (perhaps afraid of what might be said of the music) to hire an evaluator to write liners.
I was left with no option but to listen unprepared. My worst fears were soon realized. Strings crammed every cranny. Any musician on a Fields recording struggles to overcome cockeyed chaos to coordinate with colleagues. And here the kookiness was compounded by contrariness to what all string players have beaten into them from their first Suzuki class: it is necessary to play in unison. My heart goes out to these victims of Fields inconsideration as they suffer through long stretches of string-norms-stopping stench before arriving at tutti sections, such as near the end of “Bubinga.” By the time the musicians reach these mercifully mucilaginous movements they are too weary to maintain a dependable dynamic. The recording’s one positive characteristic is that the guitar playing is not as wrenched as on previous Fields titles (save that of on the previously mentioned Morris three-card-Monte gambit). Safe to assume that the other credited pick-poker, Eliot Sharp, overdubbed both guitar parts.
My recommendation: If you want lots of strings, look for classics such as Bird with Strings. If you insist on hearing strings attempt to swing, find examples in which a hot rhythm section steers the should-be-classical instrumentalist toward a groove. And if you want to hear the sound of cat guts being removed from living animals, find a copy of Frail Lumber at your local used record store where it has undoubtedly been deposited after a single partial listen. — Swingin’ Thing Magazine
Bitter Love Songs
The depths to which Scott Fields will sink are seemingly infinite. On his newest debacle, Bitter Love Songs, on the Spanish label Clean Feed Records, he hires a surrogate to perform in his place. Although Fields is listed as the album’s composer and guitarist, clearly he has hired a far-superior plectrum pounder to play his parts. This reviewer’s best guess? Joe Morris. Having suffered through countless (and beatless) Fields solos I know well his plinky-plunky “Ah so, mister, you have ticky for washy, no ticky no washy” acoustic guitar “stylings” and his many mangled missteps on the electrified alternative; the licks on this disc just taste different. Although I deplore his dishonesty, failing to even assign his sub a nom de axe ala Bird’s Charlie Chan, I applaud his absence. With Fields reduced to scratching out a few simple, nay simplistic, songs, his able replacement (clearly Morris) and rhythm-section reliables João Lobo and Sebastian Gramss rehydrate, resuscitate, and jazzitate these mediocre melodies. Fields’ sole remaining task was to pen whiney liner notes and assign ridiculous “bitter” titles to his “compositions.” Couldn’t Morris have tackled titles too? Fields is bitter? He should be…toward whomever sold him his first guitar. — Swingin’ Thing Magazine
Let it not be said that Scott Fields cannot learn from his betters. As it was pointed out by this very critic, although certainly by other like-minded arts analysts as well, his 2002 Delmark recording Mamet failed in its stated goal of alleviating the chore of reading or watching dramatic works. For reasons one hopes were simply incompetence rather than malice or deeply buried self-destructive urges, Fields omitted much of the meat and instead proffered creamed spinach. Perhaps here I must remind the forgetful reader that the Chicago string-bender offered an alleged time-saver which was to permit the harried customer to listen to instrumental condensations of literary masterworks rather than struggle with the written word or sit through interminable video realizations, not to mention live presentations, by far the most time-guzzling method for the consumption of a playwright’s reflections. Although these aural Cliff Notes were an admirable goal, the pick-pusher shot himself in our foot by not only severely abridging the texts of five David Mamet plays, but also by keeping the exact placement of the cuts to himself and perhaps his A&R man. All educational value was abandoned because the listener, no matter how attentive, was provided no hint of where acts or scenes or even speeches began or ended. The uproar, led by your correspondent, was deafening.
In this mismanaged mea culpa, Fields sets every word in five Samuel Beckett plays. Before providing his purportedly improved play-stitutes, he lifts his middle finger off the fretboard of his customized jazz guitar and extends it to you, the listener. Rather than get right to work explicating Beckett’s notoriously convoluted wordplay, Fields tenders the playwrite’s infamous “Breath,” an entirely wordless!! work. Very funny Fields. Ha ha. For the remaining four plays the so-called composer provides a rhythm and pitch for every uttered word. Alas, the result in no more useful than that of Mamet. Rather than exposing the words, Fields camouflages them with audible fog. He muddies the musical waters with incomprehensible extra sounds and notes. Worse yet, at times he layers lines, rendering the meaning of Beckett’s dialog distressingly distant. Even with text in hand, this listener found lines exceeding hard to hound dog. Sniffing out meaning became more work than it was worth. Perhaps if this were Fields’ first folly, hope could be held that illuminating his errors would lead someday to a more functional educational aid. But this political season has already exposed the pitfalls found in platefuls of false hope. Thanks but no thanks Fields. I would rather peruse Ron Paul’s proposals than fish for meaning in this bait-and-switch swamp of words rendered irrelevant. — Swingin’ Thing Magazine
Song Songs Song
On any recording that pairs players of like instruments, the primary duty to the listener is to serve as a device in which the ability of each musician can be judged, a forum for finding who plays best, who wins and who loses, who is the better man. How else can real, relevant ranks be established? But Windy City label Delmark this time blows a foul new sound in stereo guitars and as such presents what its crew of producers and A&R men must have thought a practical joke of blustery subtlety. Well this critic is not amused. Where the packaging should be informative, it is just as lazy as a summer wind. The label’s high command commits a Nuremberg’s worth of crimes against all CD consumers. First of all they leave the curious reader blowin’ in the wind, unable to tell one track from another, since these windburnt bureaucrats didn’t even see fit to include titles for the inner four “songs” on this song-parched Frisbee of acrylic and laser dimples. The next disappointment is the substitute for comprehensible liners notes with a monsoon of unrelated and meaningless words. But what turns this wayward wind of inconsideration into a presidentially declared disaster area of thoughtlessness is Delmark’s decision to jettison identification of which “musician” is playing on which channel. Judgments as to historical context, racial tendencies, and plain old chopsmanship are rendered near impossible without clear delineation of roles and responsibilities. Instead of paying a competent typographer to set a simple sentence of x = right channel, y = left channel, the label’s leaders leave little leads as to which guitar slinger is slinging where (subliminal, no doubt, since these louts heap scant care on the very lifeblood of their business: CD-buying individuals). Careful inspection of the packaging revels several clues, however. First of all, there is the cover photograph, which shows Jeff Parker on the left and Scott Fields on the right (perhaps also reflecting their political leanings). Turning the jewel box a single rotation reveals a second, smaller photograph on the CD’s rump. Again Parker is on the left and Fields is on the right. Returning to the front cover, Parker’s name is on the left and Fields’ is on the right, defying all alphabetical convention. On the rear, Parker’s name is again left and Fields’ right. This pattern, in fact, recurs wherever the names appear side by side. It is clear that this wind cries Parker left channel, Fields right. With that knowledge established firmly in mind, Delmark’s smokescreen clears on the epic battle between Parker’s solid jazz credentials (think Charles “The Yardbird” Parker or Maceo Parker more so than William Parker or, least of all, Evan Parker) and Fields’ wet-behind-the-ears eagerness but inability to please patina. Now the listener can see who is where. Parker grooves; Fields ruts. Parker swings; Fields dangles. Parker burns; Fields flickers like a candle in the wind. Nothing would please me more than to say Parker prevails. But in the end Fields’ demons destroy whatever musical content once lurked in channel left, leaving these Song Songs Song, Wrong Wrongs Wrong. — Swingin’ Thing Magazine
The Diary of Dog Drexel
Bow wow. Woof woof. Give this critic a melody. Yip yip. Arf arf. This old man wishes Scott Fields had stayed home. On this recording “composer” and “guitarist” Fields again lifts his leg on you, the listener. Fields and his littermates —brass jockey Greg Kelley, oboemann Kyle Bruckmann, squeaky-toy specialist Carry Biolo, computer programmer Gregory Taylor, and Italian woodwind-wielder Guillermo Gregorio—have broken loose from their leashes, in spite of the presence of alleged conductor Stephen Dembski. One would think—nay, pray—that choo-choo chief Dembski could teach these new dogs a few old tricks, but throughout it is clear that these pups are barely paper trained. If only Fields had provided proper positive reinforcement, a tasty treat here and there to reward the musician and ultimately the CD-purchasing public. But where there should be swing, these mongrels rock ‘n’ roll over and play dead. Where there should be harmony, there is a cacophony of howls and whimpers. Luscious tone is hiding in the basement, replaced with distressed scratching and panting. Grrrrrrrrrrr. My recommendation? Do not buy this little doggie in the window. And if one is left on your doorstep, take it to the pound to have it “put to sleep” as indeed will be the fate of anyone who adopts this homely mongrel. — Swingin’ Thing Magazine
On 96 Gestures West-coast composer and guitarist Scott Fields resurfaces with another of his much ballyhooed “modular compositions” for improvising chamber ensemble. This one meanders over an eyelid-drooping three hours and eighteen minutes. A test of endurance for even the most seasoned critic, I must admit that mid-way through the third disc I started to doze off and at one point actually drove off the road.
Fields—or his gullible label CRI—attempts to justify this dangerous length through the suspicion-raising claim that each of the three discs represents a complete, unique performance of this so-called “composition.” Common sense, or simple human decency, dictates that the composer, or conductor, or label A-and-R man, make some attempt to condense this test of one reviewer’s patience.
The best parts of each of the three discs should have been combined into a single roof-raising jam session. The best way would have been to take each of the 12 musicians’ solos and arrange them back-to-back. Myra Melford, for example, has several stirring solos, but they’re too short and too far apart. They should have been melded into one long ivory tickling so we could really check out this chick’s chops. Likewise, François Houle’s licorice stick licking should be sliced into one long, black blow, even though that would expose the Frenchman’s c’est la vie intonation. And Chi-Town Undergrounder Rob Mazurek’s gen-X excursions on Harmon-muted trumpet could have been a bitchin’ brew over the goosestepping ostinados of “Herr Contrabassman” Hans Sturm. Of course, running all of these solos together would have left scant room for any of the leader’s own fret work, but really that is just as well. — Swingin’ Thing Magazine
What is Scott Fields’s fallacious mind ever possessed him to misuse, nay abuse, one of jazz’s greatest torch singers? Why tarnish her legacy with no greater goal than to nail a “big name” to his star-starved shingle? Regardless of how addled Peggy Lee has become, how advanced her Alzheimer’s disease, how confused and helpless she is in her current condition, there is no excuse for exploiting her fantasies as a jazz violoncellist. Whatever her promise must have been as a schoolgirl cellist in the early days of the horseless carriage, it is just too late, far too late, to rekindle those long lost evenings spent caressing catgut and rosin. All of that said, it is remarkable how well Ms. Lee manages the aforementioned violin, extra-value-meal size. Her intonation is as sharp as a coffin nail. The tremors in her hand shake loose a delicious vibrato. Her tone is as rich and well-aged as the grand dame herself. Her staccato strings snap like “Fever.” But still the essence of Ms. Lee has wafted away, diluted by too many cheap whiskeys and bummed cigarettes. Where is the swing? Where are the walking bass lines? (Do her high heels and satiny slit dresses make it impossible to lay down a respectable cello walk?) Where are the clever quotes from her many hits and the jazz standards with which she became so familiar in a million venues from faceless dives with beer-soaked stages to the very Tonight Show with Johnny Carson?
Fields rubs in her dementia by naming all of the “compositions” on This That some combination of “This” and “That.” “This is That.” “This is This.” “This isn’t That.” My God man! Isn’t it enough to humiliate this once-proud Jazz Artist (don’t you wish that you could say the same of yourself?) without demonstrating that she longer can distinguish this from that? The shame! Dylan van der Schyff (drums) also “contributes” to this travesty. — Swingin’ Thing Magazine
Today’s hustle-bustle, no-time-for-mama world is a far too busy a place for serious reading. Realizing that there are many, and, let’s be frank here, possibly an infinite number of, great literary works whose pages I will never have the time, however desired, to peruse, it was with eager hope that I laid Scott Fields’ disc “Mamet” und mien plattenspieler. You see, Fields advertises his CD as a kind of “play on disc,” through which he hopes allow busy literati to speed listen to great word works. In this case he has condensed five of the great Chicago playwright David Mamet’s dramatic masterpieces to their instrumental essence. His scheme was to remove the words themselves, distilling the plays to raw emotion and scenario-atic movement, replacing English dialog with the universal language of music.
But with each passing guitar bar, with each incomprehensible thumping contrabass contribution, with each percussive phrase, my disappointment grew. As much as I tried to grasp Mamet’s meaning, the meandering musical misrepresentation of this giant of the American stage and movie house left my eyes glazed and my mind muddled. One cannot grasp even the barest of scene changes, or the movement from one act to the next, let alone the meaning of master Mamet’s universal utterances. Reading the script of “American Buffalo” while listening the identically titled track on Fields’ fraud was little help. In a final act of desperation, I viewed the video version of “Oleanna” (starring the multi-faceted William Macy, who although not in the fine form he displayed as “The Shoveler” in Mystery Men, gives a stirring performance) while listening to Fields’ version. Not only was the musical condensation out of sync with the video, which we know was the correct interpretation since it was directed by David Mamet himself, but it drowned out the dialog. My advice? If you want to bone up on these plays, rent the videos. Fields may have brazenly branded his “plays on disc” M-A-M-E-T, but a more appropriate spelling would have been F-A-I-L-U-R-E. — Swingin’ Thing Magazine