April 24, 2001
SCOTT FIELDS ENSEMBLE
Self proclaimed programmatic music, MAMET is a series of interlocking compositions "guided by" five of the plays written by American playwright David Mamet. Mamet, the wordsmith, is notorious for the care he puts into the cadences of his dialogue and Madison, Wisc.-based guitarist Scott Fields has tried to reflect both the words and the structure of the plays in his tunes.
How well does he succeed? Quite well in a musical sense, since the improvisations created by the guitarist and his helpmates — Chicago drummer Michael Zerang and New York bassist Michael Formanek — could certainly stand on their own. But whether each properly reflects the dramatic work it's supposed to represent is more of a moot point. Keeping in mind that the guitar here represents Mamet's female characters and the bass his male ones helps prolong the idea.
An almost 22 minute tour-de-force — and the longest track on the disc — "The Woods" goes the farthest towards reifying Fields' thesis. Depicting a two-character play that simmers with an undercurrent of suppressed violence which finally explodes in the final scene, the sounds move from nearly inaudible at the beginning to arena rock level at the end. Beginning with hushed bass notes, percussion clicks and the odd guitar lick, a cowbell suggests the rural setting. Following the original melancholy theme, all bowed bass and cymbal runs, a bass drum wash and cymbal swish introduces the guitar, which becomes louder as the seconds tick by. This lyrical guitar section is supposed to reflect the female character's hope that her relationship will last, but a deep, dark, masculine bass solo seems to foreshadow its doom. Finally, after harsh guitar notes which are offered up like dagger thrusts, a furious physical fight is depicted. Fields concentrates his repeated held notes on staccato screeches and the savagery of Jimi Hendrix-style feedback. All three musicians operate at magnified fortissimo for a while until the melancholy theme returns at the conclusion.
One of Mamet's most famous works, "Oleanna", about the transformation of a power relationship between a female student and a male professor, thrives in this setting as well. With Zerang's percussion keeping things moving in the background, over the course of the tune Field's guitar lines gradually gain in the strength and intensity as Formanek's bass moves from a strong bowed part to short, deep, plucked notes which almost slow to stasis.
Reflecting sameness in tempo and atmosphere, the other tracks are less satisfactory, but that perhaps may be a function of Mamet's themes rather than Fields' conceptions. Still, trying to relate Zerang's percussion to playing cards being dealt or money jingling on "Prairie Du Chien" may be too much of a stretch — especially for those who haven't seen the play.
Held to a different standard than the usual guitar, bass and drums work out, Fields has to be commended for his imagination as well as for what he has produced. Convincingly, for the greatest part of the discs, the musicians have used their skills to put remarkable improvised flesh on the programmatic compositional bones.
Exploring an unusual musical byway, Fields has created a disc that can be thought about as well as heard.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Prairie Du Chien 2. American Buffalo 3. Edmond 4. The Woods 5. Olenna
Personnel: Scott Fields (guitar); Michael Formanek (bass); Michael Zerang (drums)