Beckett follows in the conceptual footsteps of Mamet (Delmark, 2001), guitarist Scott Fields’ previous project inspired by an author. Tracking the thematic similarities between Beckett’s writing and Fields’ compositions is a tenuous prospect, like any project that yields inspiration from a divergent art form. Nonetheless, the album provides a challenging and rewarding listen on its own, with or without knowledge of its genesis.
From aleatoric excursions to blistering, jittery free-bop, Fields has an ear for adventurous, unconventional sounds. Christening his work “post-free jazz,” Fields’ complex, multi-part compositions reveal themselves gradually, providing ample room for solo expression and unified thematic development. Packed with intricate counterpoint and tight group interplay, these labyrinthine works blur the line between the composed and the improvised with kaleidoscopic, pre-written passages and dense, free-wheeling improvisations.
Joining him for the first time are three new collaborators. Ubiquitous percussionist John Hollenbeck is a fountainhead of unique textures and unconventional rhythms, his pneumatic inventions contribute an array of percussive wonder to the session. Tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert blends fervent angularity with a flighty, mercurial zeal, especially during his spasmodic tirade on the agitated “What Where.” Cellist Scott Roller employs a diverse approach, blending a sober, singing tone with a scathing bow attack. His lyrical turn on the pensive introspection of “Come and Go” is as delicately melodious as his assertive assault on “What Where” is jarring. The leader shines in this spartan context, his bright tone accenting a razor sharp fusillade of notes one minute, genteel chords the next (sometimes together), as on the zany swing of “Rockaby.”
Although conceptual allusions to literature might suggest haughty pretension, Beckett is actually Fields’ most varied and swinging record in years. Even at their most abstract, these are engaging compositions, bolstered by zealous group interaction, rich harmonic ingenuity and stunning dynamic range. Like the work of its dedicatee, one listen to this album won’t do it justice. — All About Jazz
The works of Samuel Beckett have been a recurrent source of inspiration for guitarist Scott Fields. Samuel is Fields’ second effort at conveying the master’s prose through pure sound, following Beckett (Clean Feed, 2007). Transposing the original text of Beckett’s plays into precise pitches, chords and time signatures, Fields transforms Beckett’s wordplay into melodies and harmonies that share more than a passing resemblance to jazz. Despite their cerebral origins and abstruse character, the ensuing works are in fact fairly accessible.
Eschewing pure free improvisation in favor of advanced compositional structures, Fields has long been an advocate of composer Stephen Dembski’s post-serial harmonic system, which uses multiple tone rows to construct non-tonal scales. The subtle dissonances, odd intervals and angular melodies of Fields’ writing provide him and his sidemen with a bevy of timbre and pitch choices, lending their improvisations an oblique, enthralling character.
Joined by tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert, cellist Scott Roller and percussionist John Hollenbeck, Fields and company extrapolate three of Beckett’s emotionally claustrophobic plays into evocative sound portraits. Fields’ abstract compositions seamlessly fuse elaborate counterpoint, odd time signatures and unorthodox arrangements with sections of controlled group interplay, blurring the line between the written and the improvised.
Encapsulating a range of emotions, the episodic “Not I” careens with fervid angularity and bustling agitation while “Ghost Trio” ebbs with cinematic intrigue. Mirroring the play, “Not I” is structured around a series of repeated motifs, allowing each musician a chance to solo, with particular attention paid to Schubert, who leads the piece with an array of effusive, histrionic variations. Although “Ghost Trio” was originally coined in honor of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Trio, Fields avoids the obvious, setting the piece as a languid jazz ballad with noir overtones, showcasing the quartet’s introspective side with a string of spare, bluesy meditations. “Eh Joe” is the album’s conceptual centerpiece, progressively building from hushed pointillism to a strident, rock-inflected unison theme, emulating the original teleplay’s escalating inner drama.
In league with Beckett, and earlier still, Mamet (Delmark, 2001), Samuel is another winning transposition of the written word into instrumental sonorities. Buoyed by fervid group interplay and compelling lyrical invention, these harmonically audacious and challenging compositions offer a wealth of ideas, much like the work of their dedicatee. — All About Jazz
Bitter Love Songs
While the sardonic album title alludes to a session fraught with rancorous despair, guitarist Scott Fields’ Bitter Love Songs is, perhaps ironically, one of his most accessible efforts. Born in Chicago, but now based in Cologne, Germany, Fields recorded this date in his new home town with German bassist Sebastian Gramss and Portuguese drummer João Lobo. An iconoclast who favors unusual instrumental combinations, this is his first guitar trio recording since Mamet (Delmark, 2001), with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Michael Zerang.
In the scathing liner notes Fields explains that the unsettled themes, fitful rhythms and grating dissonances elicited by the trio are intended to invoke the nerve-wracking nausea that accompanies the impending dissolution of romance. While all of these traits are present, they are often fairly subtle; in contrast to his exotic conceptual projects, this loose trio session is actually somewhat conventional.
With Fields as the principle soloist, Gramss and Lobo follow the guitarist’s lead, providing stirring rhythmic accompaniment that vacillates in tempo from casual to frantic. The majority of the tunes saunter at a buoyant mid-tempo clip with periods of intermittent turbulence. Occasionally reaching a fevered pitch, but never boiling over, the trio generates a more agreeable mood than one would expect from such song titles as “My Love Is Love, Your Love Is Hate” and “Your Parents Must Be Just Ecstatic Now.” Only “I Was Good Enough for You Until Your Friends Butted In” breaks form with a languorous abstract blues.
A proponent of structured improvisation based on tone row manipulation, Fields conveys his enigmatic statements with focused intensity. He fires rapid salvoes of knotty linear cadences at regular staccato intervals from his clean-toned hollow body. At his most feverish, he conjures blistering chromatic note clusters as he scuttles across his fretboard. Together, Gramss’ elastic walking bass patterns, Lobo’s shuffling trap set ruminations and Fields’ thorny commentary coil into a kaleidoscopic mosaic of expressionistic interplay.
Despite the derisive title, Bitter Love Songs is a compelling example of modern jazz guitar improvisation supported by an empathetic rhythm section. For aficionados of unfettered guitar traditions, this is essential listening. — All About Jazz
Song Songs Song
Quite possibly one of the most adventurous records yet to emerge from the highly respected jazz and blues label, Delmark, Song Songs Song pushes the limits of what can easily be considered traditional jazz improvisation. Jazz guitarists Jeff Parker and Scott Fields play with and against each other in a studio session that will certainly be remembered for its risk taking elements. Guitarist Jeff Parker, known for his work with numerous projects including Tortoise, Isotope 217, The Chicago Underground pairs up with Scott Fields, a free jazz guitarist and composer who has hovered around the avant garde jazz scene since the late 1960’s. These two play a sequence of pieces that run from the melodic to the downright dissonant. Book ended by Parker’s more delicate pastoral pieces, the bulk of the record finds the two guitarists in stop and go pointillistic free debate. Volume pedal swells, scraped strings and distorted chromatic runs all fly by as the guitarists play an endless game of cat and mouse. Melodic fragments emerge from the pieces, but are just a quickly discarded to explore more textural territory. Call and response improvisation is the conceptual backbone of this session. One can almost visualize the two sitting side by side copying runs from one another, then abstracting them, before turning them inside out and playing them back again. Not an easy listen for those with pre-conceived notions of what jazz improvisation should sound like, Song Songs Song is a brave release on Delmark’s part and makes for perfect blindfold test material. Play this one for your guitar geek friends and see if they can guess even one of the players. — Junk Media
Chicago-based guitarist Scott Fields most successful projects, such as Mamet (Delmark, 2001), and Beckett (Clean Feed, 2007), offer a novel merger of structured improvisation inspired by literary sources, this album included. Recorded in 1997 and previously available only on Fields’ own tiny Geode label, this session sat dormant for ten years before this Clean Feed reissue.
Dénouement features a unique double ensemble; two electric guitar trios playing in tandem, but rarely in unison. In 1997, Fields’ working trio consisted of bassist Hans Sturm and drummer Hamid Drake. Fellow Midwesterners, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Michael Zerang pilot the second trio with guitarist Jeff Parker. Five years before his solo debut, Like-Coping (Delmark, 2003), Parker demonstrates the lyrical finesse and adventurous risk-taking that has brought him acclaim as part of the new Chicago scene.
Using multiple pitch sets and compound rhythmic figures to create an off-kilter sensibility, Fields creates a complex mosaic of contrapuntal lines and cross-rhythms. Modulating dynamics with nuance and relaxed pacing, the ensemble meanders from austere chamber-esque duets exploring pointillist dialogue to dense collective passages that unfurl knotty tendrils of abstruse commentary fueled by angular, interlocking rhythms. To his credit, these layered compositions feel unforced, belying their structural intricacy.
Intertwining with graceful subtlety, the two trios navigate similar paths without drifting in cacophonous discourse. Drake and Zerang’s elastic rhythms skirt between skittering harmonic accents and fulminating energy, while Roebke and Sturm occasionally alternate techniques, bowing fractured double stops and sonorous arco glisses or plucking metered pizzicato.
Fields and Parker offer a kaleidoscopic array of scintillating tonal colors and subtle electronic textures. Less EFX dependent than many electric guitarists, they rely on sensitivity of touch and phrasing for their sound, rather than twiddling knobs on stomp boxes. Employing a variety of approaches, from pensive, linear patterns to blistering fretwork exuding jittery bursts of atonality, they complement and contrast each other with remarkable restraint and a seething undercurrent of roiling energy.
Fields’ darkly humorous song titles allude to the uncertain resolutions of morose, convoluted narratives, much like his own compositions. Intricate, but not overly esoteric, Dénouement is a welcome reissue and a high water mark in Fields’ varied discography. — All About Jazz