Song Songs Song
Guitarist and composer Scott Fields dislikes easy categorization. He’s created nonsensical terms for his music to prevent critics from pigeonholing him. He defined The Scott Fields Ensemble “as consisting of everyone who has performed or recorded with the group at any time. Although not all members are present at any given performance or recording, they are there in spirit when not corporeal.” His liner notes for this duo release with guitarist Jeff Parker are equally ornery, stealing potential critics’ rhetorical thunder. The six slippery improvisations live up to his rhetoric; all of them actively defy musical limitations.
Superficially, the pieces suggest an array of approaches: minimalism, free improv, Morton Feldman’s austere structures, blues, rich jazz. Parker and Fields, however, go beyond any one approach, edging toward Cage’s definition of sound: pitch, duration, timbre and loudness. The duo works in a larger narrative arc with ample use of repetition, silence, subtle variation and texture.
Fields’ half-serious titles express something of the duo’s intentions. Each one sounds like the name of a painting, and describes their collage approach to structure. On “Untitled, 1968, Bing Cherry Juice, KY Jelly, Ketchup on Vellum,” Parker and Fields glue together a series of spiky feedback bursts, tangled runs, volume-knob fade-ins and fade-outs and percussive strums. “Untitled, 2004, Dried Blood on Gauze, Elastic Strip with Adhesive Backing” begins like a musical still life as single notes, chords, plucks and scribbles briefly flicker. Isolated moments take center stage before the duo plunge each into a thicket of feedback and metallic ringing.
The artists continually lead the listener in different directions. On “Untitled, 2001, Soot on Slate,” the two guitarists excavate the melodic content, and focus on single tones, chords, or progressions. They examine their finds from every angle until they transform it completely. The pair wanders a labyrinth, not searching for its center or exit, but exploring each corner, route and dead-end.
Parker and Fields shadow each other throughout so closely that separating them becomes fruitless. Both use a sharp attack and quick decay, quiet dynamics, stunted phrasing, and very few, if any, effects. Their guitars on “Untitled, 1955, Crayon on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Box” stand naked. They clip phrases with rapid volume changes, chime delicate harmonics, grate the strings with their picks. The cumulative effect is at times powerful, at others dismayingly restless.
Two Parker pieces nicely bookend the album. The bubbling rhythmic lines of the album opener “LK 92,” reminiscent of Ali Farka Toure’s buoyant guitar work, act as a palate cleanser, while “The Fields of Cologne” serves as an after-dinner cappuccino. These pieces’ more overt melodies lighten the album’s unceasing investigation. — Dusted