Scott Fields Ensemble – Dénouement (CF 088)
This may very well be the year that puts Chicago guitarist Scott Fields firmly on the improvisational map. His Clean Feed Records debut, Beckett , occupies a tense poise between measured and somewhat theatre-inspired movement and free immediacy. Joining him on the tightrope walk are percussionist John Hollenbeck, tenorman Matthias Schubert and cellist Scott Roller. On the heels of Beckett is the reissue of Dénouement , a double-trio recording initially waxed in 1997 for Fields’ tiny, now-defunct Geode label. He’s joined by guitarist Jeff Parker (here in a pre-Thrill Jockey guise), bassists Jason Roebke and Hans Sturm, and drummers Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang (who appeared with bassist Michael Formanek on Fields’ excellent Delmark disc Mamet ).
Fields characterizes the music as “the bastard child of King Sunny Adé and Ornette Coleman” and he might not be incorrect in that assertion. Luckily not recorded in mono, each trio is audible in separate yet interweaving channels, Fields, Sturm and Drake on the right and Parker, Roebke and Zerang on the left. From the opening plinks and strums of “Her Children,” plaintive and nearly detuned, Parker and Fields underpin, addend and fragment their own dialogue, a delicate conversation in language about to collapse on itself. Pulled out from dissipation by a seemingly abrupt arrival at martial swing, the twin rhythm sections offer a steadily oppositional groove, basses and guitars walking in contrasts and a unison of throaty grasps, linked mostly by absence. After all, one reason for using two bassists or drummers in opposing rhythms is that the contrast will, rather than stagnate create a third and less deterministic pulse, stemming from “both” and “neither.”
Like musical forebears the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, these lengthy improvisations (albeit with brief written signposts) should be taken as a whole, with individual areas popping out and grabbing one’s senses – dueling arco-ponticello basses catch the ear mightily, percussion hanging overhead in implied fits of near-waltz as Fields and Parker skitter from the front porch to somewhere way, way underground. A charged, fuzzy rock phrase is worried in damning repetition, Sharrock-like overtones brought out as basses, toms and a second guitar both goad and placate. It’s the simultaneity of sounds, phrases and rhythms and their conflicted outcomes – or, rather, the space between these things – that makes Fields’ ensembles work. Luckily for us, this early example of his music is available again.