Scott Fields Ensemble

We Were The Phliks
RogueArt ROG-007

Utilizing the textures available from one instrument which assumed its modern form sometime between the 10th and the 15th century and another 20th century invention considered antique because it’s merely analogue, guitarist Scott Fields has created an almost 70½-minute CD that’s as audacious as it is rewarding.

Naturally being improvised music, We Were The Phliks also depends on the interpretive skills of the four players as much as the graphical or conventional notation Fields uses for these four long pieces. A mixture of experiences and cultures, the players are Fields, the Chicago-born guitarist who has lived in Köln, Germany for the past few years; two German-born Köln residents: tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert and analogue synthesizer player Thomas Lehn; plus Xu Fengxia, a native of Shanghai, who now lives in Hövelhof and plays the guzheng, a large Chinese zither whose most familiar shape was established by the 15th century.

All the players are open to new experiences however. Fields, whose collaborators have ranged from fellow guitarist Jeff Parker to oboist Kyle Bruckmann, and Schubert, who is part of a co-op trio with tubaist Carl-Ludwig Hübsch and trombonist Wolter Wierbos, manipulate traditional jazz instruments to this end. Lehn, whose extended wires and in-put plugs characterize his axe of choice as a pre-1980s model, often plays with fellow sound explorers like saxophonist John Butcher. As well, despite her instrument’s antiquity, Xu has recorded with Free players such as percussionist Roger Turner.

Operating in non-traditional territory, the sounds created here don’t replicate expected timbres anyhow. Xu’s guzheng vibrations sometimes resemble those of a double bass or a banjo; Schubert is as likely to output wispy flutters and tongue slaps as honks and legato runs; and Lehn’s synthesizer does double duty as an electronic keyboard and to trigger otherworldly oscillations and drones. While Fields does comp, his licks would never be confused with those of Barney Kessel.

At points in fact, settling on a fashion in which to simultaneously interact with Schubert’s altissimo squeaks, Xu’s triple-stopping banjo-like peals and Lehn’s disconnected electronic pulses, the guitarist tries out crunchy, downward string trebles that balance between Bluegrass runs and Hawaiian echoes.

When the sonic diffusion among the four doesn’t evolve in rondo-like fashion, it does so in dual counterpoint. For instance the pleasantness of Xu’s chromatic plinks and plunks is contrasted with Fields’ staccato reverb; or Lehn’s vibrating electronic drones are texturally contrasted with Schubert’s trilling smears. Elsewhere, distortions from the two electrified instruments create cumulative, polyphonic crackles and sputters. In still other spots, the saxophone’s twittering phrasing turns tenderly legato, while the guzheng’s zither-like qualities disappear into lute-like glissandi.

Each player’s techniques and ruses protrude with structured logic during the more than 24½ minutes of “Assi Glöde”. Stuttering barks triggered from the synthesizer, plus distorted chording and stop-time rasgueado from the guitar escalate to contrapuntally contrast with Schubert’s irregularly paced growls and Xu’s chromatic plectrum plucks.

Midway through, while the guzheng player’s abrasively flat picks, the reedist’s fluttering vibrations and split tones are shadowed by overlaid, distorted guitar runs. Soon with the combined pulsations making up a continuous electro-acoustic background, single reed puffs move to the foreground. Eventually, a new passage of motor-driven oscillations from Lehn encourages Fields to abandon single-stroke licks to create a throbbing crescendo of sprawling multiphonics. That is quickly amplified by Schubert’s reed snorts and spetrofluctuation. With the climax attained, a few final saxophone breaths and echoing guitar fills confirm the piece’s conclusion.

On earlier CDs, Fields has celebrated such accomplished literary figures as American playwright David Mamet and Irish dramatist Samuel Becket. Featuring this unique mixture of almost ancient, near-modern and contemporary textures, the oddly titled CD’s literary precedent could be a time-shifting science fiction novel that intersects concepts of past, present and future. Overall, We Were The Phliks is definitely a good read … that is listen.

— Ken Waxman

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Track List: 1. Marg Tobias 2. Brad and Laura Winter 3. Assi Glöde 4. ellsworth snyder

Personnel: Matthias Schubert (tenor saxophone); Scott Fields (guitar); Thomas Lehn (analog synthesizer) and Xu Fengxia (guzheng)