From the Diary of Dog Drexel
“My name would be ‘Dog Drexel,’” confides guitarist Scott Fields in his online biography, explaining the title. From the Diary of Dog Drexel comprises four compositions called “Conflicted,” “Pissed,” “Bummed,” and “Agitated.” You might justifiably conclude that Fields has concocted a grungy soundtrack to an imagined life of sleaze. But you’d be wrong, though it’s certainly fraught with tension and brittle attitude. Evolved from the system of generating non-tonal scales Fields has worked with since entering the orbit of composer Stephen Dembski, this harmonically ambivalent music often evokes unease.
Dembski conducts a quintet featuring Fields on electric and nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, Greg Kelley on trumpet, Guillermo Gregorio on alto sax and clarinet, Kyle Bruckmann on oboe and English horn and Carrie Biolo on vibraphone, marimba, crotales, and unpitched percussion. There’s a cut-glass feel to the ensemble: multifaceted, hard-edged, and refractive. Luminous with the shimmer of vibes, they can sour when the reeds clash, defiant when the trumpet asserts itself, or angry and threatening when Fields’s guitar growls and lashes out.
A fifth track, “Medicated,” is credited to all five players plus Gregory Taylor who processed materials from their improvising. Its meltdown of definition into more fundamental ambivalence, volatile temperaments, and even the remnants of Fields’s spiteful soloing, dosed and deliquescing into computer-generated numbness, make for a fitting conclusion. — The Wire
Fields has said that his use of the word ‘Ensemble’ pays homage to The Art Ensemble of his native Chicago, rather than being a means to identify a particular group of musicians. The personnel lined up behind the name has varied wildly. Van der Schyff recurs on 96 Gestures but as part of a 12-piece group steered by conductor Stephen Dembski. Among the other members are alto saxophonist Joseph Jarman, pianist Myra Melford, clarinetist François Houle and Rob Mazurek on cornet. The composition is a structure of cued modules giving leads that encourage improvisation. Outcome can vary considerably as these three realizations, each more than an hour long, demonstrate well. Common to all three is a sense of fluency, lightness and mobility, multiple events and constant activity without unwanted snarls or messy collisions. Ostensibly very different to This That, and on a label subsidiary to CRI, which has for many years championed contemporary compositions, 96 Gestures nonetheless shares points of contact in its questioning repetitions and variations, its (more formal) permutatory maneuvers and the sense that no concluding gesture can ever be more than provisional. Fields’s choice of collaborators has been one of his strengths. Here it ensures sensitive playing and accurate reading that align the piece with substantial work by the likes of Butch Morris, Anthony Braxton, and John Zorn seeking ways to sustain and extend creative relationships between composed forms and alert improvising. — The Wire
Scott Fields is an electric guitarist who can go for the jugular while shouldering same fairly hefty conceptual baggage. His squally eruptions on This That suggest an intelligent and ironic man giving vent to seething anger and frustration. But this trio recording in the sympathetic company of cellist Peggy Lee and drummer Dylan van der Schyff is by no means all spleen. Much of the album has a probing feel, quietly teasing apart modest phrases and motifs that are firmly established at the start then continuously revised and elaborated. The three players circle around the core material kneading and tugging until it has stretched into a piece that can be called “This is This,” “That is This,” or “That is That.” The reversible titles accurately reflect music that seems conclusive but is primed to unravel in order to begin again. Despite the assertive tone, nothing is ever definitively stated because it can always be said otherwise, as in all successful improvising. — The Wire
Each performer preserves a distinct identity as the music unfolds. The lines frequently converge as a phrase or harmonic configuration is picked up and echoed in the course of another current, but those nodes never arrest the forward motion, or blur the internal contours of the music. It’s a long album, arguable, after the first few listens, a little too long given its evenness, But it is also insidious, spiked with subtle temptations to play it again. — The Wire