Scott Fields Ensemble

Beckett
Clean Feed CFO69 CD (www.cleanfeed-records.com)

Cologne-based expatriate American guitarist Scott Fields frames this memorable quartet session as a tribute to existential Irish writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). Unlike Beckett’s almost static works featuring lonely humans trying to articulate the unexpressive however, Fields’ compositions manage to be both stirring and affecting.

Although the longer tracks incorporate Beckett-like extended pauses, elsewhere all-encompassing, multi-voiced counterpoint recalls not the Irish dramatist’s bare-bones style, but the overlapping dialogue of film makers such as Robert Altman. American playwright David Mamet received a similar homage from Fields in 2000 and the subsequent years have fortified the guitarist’s playing and writing … or is it acting and directing?

Dramatis personae in this work include a cast of experienced actors … er, players. German tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert exposes timbres ranging from pumping atonal slurs to echoing, chesty vibrations; versatile American percussionist John Hollenbeck busily propels the splintered beat with his regular kit, while using water-glass-like pings, pealing chimes, and what sounds like rubber-balls bouncing on snare tops for added scene-setting. Yank expat cellist Scott Roller, of the legit Helios String Quartet, adds cross-swiped col legno jabs as effortlessly as vamping walking bass lines.

While the staccato “Play” projects quadruple counterpoint from all concerned – demonstrating call-and-call rather than call-and-response – the nearly 30 minute agitato “What Where” is Fields’ chef d’oeuvre. With his knob-twisting distortion and slurred fingering on show, the guitarist elaborates the accelerating explosive theme on top of solid rhythms propelled both by Hollenbeck’s unaffected smacks, slaps and pops and near-identical stop-and-start voicing of scrapes, whistles, stops and vibrations from cello and saxophone.

Thematically conclusive throughout, Beckett transcends its derivation to become CD that is certainly more polyphonic – and often more theatrical – than Beckett’s writing.

— Ken Waxman

CODA Issue 334