Scott Fields: electric guitar | Thomas Lehn: syntéthiseur analog synthesizer | Matthias Schubert: tenor saxophone | Xu Fengxia: guzheng
Recorded on June 30th & July 1st 2005 by Christian Heck at The Loft (Köln, Germany). Mixing & mastering: Reinhard Kobialka. Liner notes: Scott Fields. Photographs: Agata Schubert. Producteur: Scott Field
Tracklist: 1. Marg Tobias (12.19) 2. Brad and Laura Winter (15.38) 3. Assi Glöde (24.37) 4. ellsworth snyder (17.42)
All compositions by Scott Fields
It is my habit to set myself some rules for each project I compose.
Otherwise the world is just too big for me. For my contributions to The Phliks book I made myself a rule that every tune would include traditional notation, graphical notation, and improvisation. (To counter misconceptions, perhaps I should mention that the guzheng and analog synthesizer required no special notation.) Like most of the material that I have produced over the last decade or so, in Phliks pieces I would blur the distinction between notated and improvised material.
Any musical rules, whether those of Robert de Viseé or Iggy Pop, exist to allow something to happen that otherwise wouldn’t. Even an apparent lack of rules — no scribbles for the musicians to stare at, no chords for one person to strum while the rest watch and learn — can be just as deterministic. Unspoken mores lurk even in free improvisation; a free improvising sideman who insists on quoting Charlie Parker or Zakk Wylde at length will soon be a solo artist. — Scott Fields, excerpt from the liner notes
Matthias Schubert, Scott Fields, Xu Fengxia, Thomas Lehn (from left to right) | Photo by Agata Schubert
This album does not reveal its secrets easily.
The proceedings start slowly and sparsely enough, but, very quickly, we are thrust headlong into a densely packed quartet of intense contrapuntal improvisations, full of long blisteringly fast lines. The occasional rhythms prevail, but they are quickly usurped by further post-post-Bop interregistral runs.
The results are initially exhausting, and on first listen, Thomas Lehn and Xu Fengxia provide the only relief in the form of varied texture. Lehn’s synthwork has always been a pleasure to hear, endlessly inventive and compatible with almost anything. Xu Fengxia is new to me, but her work here is brilliant, exhibiting the best timbral traits of European improv peppered with what I can only describe as touches of pan-ethnicity. Sudden shifts in volume, pitch, and duration make her contributions forceful but beautiful.
Only the final track presents some welcome moments of repose, and, I might add, some of the most intricate and gorgeous group improv on the disc. Long drones swell, shimmer and fade, guitar gliding in softly to obscure itself in saxophone shadows. When the lines return, they are slow, almost languid, the players seemingly more willing to accommodate space.
As interesting and engaging as these pieces ultimately can be, Fields’ playing strikes me as too similar throughout. Perhaps it’s just a sound I don’t like, or with which I need more acquaintance, but almost constant runs executed in a very homogeneous timbral spectrum don’t help matters. The fourth piece in particular holds incredible promise, for all members of the ensemble, and I hope that this group will continue exploring in that direction. — Marc Medwin, Cadence Magazine
Thomas Lehn, Mattias Schubert, Scott Fields, Xu Fengxia (from left to right) | Photo by Agata Schubert
Guitarist Scott Fields points out
in the liner notes to his latest record We Were The Philks: “It is my habit to set myself some rules for each project I compose. Otherwise the world is just too big for me. For my contributions to The Phliks book I made myself a rule that every tune would include traditional notation, graphical notation, and improvisation. In the Phliks pieces I would blur the distinction between notated and improvised material.” When one listens to the 70-minute work, a distinct sense of confusion comes about. What is composed and what is improvised? Then again, when the music is this solid, does it really matter? Fields has assembled a stellar cast for the project. His ensemble includes Thomas Lehn on analogue synth, Matthias Schubert on tenor sax and Xu Fengxia on guzheng. Fields’ music sparkles with an unspoken intensity. While his guitar hums with electric sparkles, put together with Xu Fengxia’s distinct hollow guzheng, it is a killer. Add to this Schubert’s intensely satisfying tenor gale blows and Lehn’s other-worldly synth slabs and you’ve got yourself a tight band kicking up a storm. As the sounds alternate between more serene passages and those that simply rock, the music moves in a natural, nearly cyclical way. If there is one factor that sticks out of the mix, it’s got to be Thomas Lehn and his squeaky synth. In applying simple pressure tactics, he often times convinces the other players to follow along into alien territories he favours to tread. Wildly satisfying record from beginning to end. — Tom Sekowski, Gaz-Eta
Scott Fields, Matthias Schubert, Xu Fengxia, Thomas Lehn (from left to right) | Photo by Agata Schubert
Scott Fields posits a somewhat idiosyncratic attitude
toward musical partnerships. He takes his time and isn’t averse to what at first may seem like incongruous collaborations. This new Rogue Art release corroborates that characterization with what might be first in terms of instrumentation. On paper, the combination of electric guitar, tenor saxophone, analog synth and guzheng might seem an oil and water proposition, but Fields balances notation with improvisation over four long pieces and ably proves its viability. Each piece appears to be named after friends and patrons of the four.
The disc title refers indirectly to a phenomena often cited by Fields where bands in which he is involved commonly coalesce under his umbrella ensemble rubric. The shift in this case came not from a domineering sense of self-importance, but a gradual realization of Fields as focal point for the group. Thomas Lehn frequently acts as agent provocateur, his synth set-up the most mutable in terms of accessing taxonomically unfamiliar sounds. At times he swirls and eddies around the fringes, inserting gurgles and blips amidst the others’ more circumscribed interplay. In other spots, as on the opening of “Brad and Laura Winter” he surges into pole position, sounding a bit like Sun Ra behind a phalanx of buttons and keys and building a pump-organ-meets-calliope chorus in concert with Fengxia that in a weird way recalls the darker carny side of Tom Waits.
Mattias Schubert is similarly liberal in his palette on sax, moving from cottony breath sounds to skirling cries and even relatively straight melodic statements. As the strings contingent Fields and Fengxia make for a consistently catalytic pairing, the latter moving from fragments of Chinese melodies to spates of kitchen-utensils-on-iron-grate dissonance while Fields plays everything from faux classical patterns to hook-toothed blues arpeggios. Lulls do occur, but rarely for very long and each of pieces achieves a pleasingly organic tractability. Variety is the spice and the four pack plenty in. A word too to Fields clipped cadence liners which are as clever, whimsical and self-deprecating as ever and an apposite appendix to the music. — Derek Taylor, Bagatellen
CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)