Niklas Seidl / Hannah Weirich / Daniel Agi / Ramón Gardella / Stephen Dembski / Axel Porath / Axel Lindner / Arturo Portugal / Matthias Muche / Melvyn Poore / Helen Bledsoe / Norbert Rodenkirchen / Frank Gratkowski / Ingrid Laubrock / Matthias Schubert / Annegrat Mayer-Lindenberg / Niklas Seidl / Scott Fields / David Stackenäs / Pascal Niggenkemper / Christian Weber

January 1, 2021

Seven Deserts

New World Records 80821

Vigorously amplifying program ideas which date back to his 2001 Mamet CD, while incorporating orchestral colors from the instrumentalists he now works with since relocating to Köln in 2003, is American guitarist Scott Fields. Culmination of these concepts is this seven-part suite, with Fields’ composition admirably interpreted by a 20-piece ensemble conducted by Stephen Dembski. The presence of a conductor confirms that the arrangements for the mostly German group, calls for notated music precision coupled with improvisational liberties.

This dichotomy is especially apparent with the scene setting “Desert 2” and “Desert 3” where tints and temperatures of the desert landscape shift with studied regularity. The area’s barren and blooming qualities are suggested by sonic descriptions, overlain with unspecified menace, and with the fixed timbres interrupted by Free Music tropes.

“Desert 2” for instance contrasts a dreamy introduction of arco strings and flute peeps with jagged string inserts supplemented by resounding double bass thumps from Pascal Niggenkemper and Christian Weber. With a theme suggesting caravans gliding across the sands, the exposition, driven by subtle strokes from Ramón Gardella’s marimba and Arturo Portugal’s vibraphone, is shattered by bite-sized cries from Ingrid Laubrock’s soprano and Frank Gratkowski’s clarinet. As calm and cacophony alternate, the narrative builds to a multiphonic crescendo via crow-cawing brass from trumpeter Udo Moll and tailgate slurps from trombonist Matthias Muche. Finally the brass tones diminish to meet whistling flutes. Guitarists Fields and David Stackenäs move forward on “Desert 3”, rubbing and shaking discordant timbres as the lower-pitched strings maintains a microtonal counter line. Finally sweeping and strumming strings convene and give way to a snazzy Balkan-like reed interlude, seconded by burps from Melvyn Poore’s tuba, until the reed player create a squealing finale.

Conflicting sequences like these slip, shudder and slide throughout the Seven Deserts with section resolution as apt to be slowly unfolding near-romanticism as busy multiphonics. While the narrative gentleness is suffused with unexplainable dread, it’s only in the penultimate “Desert 6” where Rock-like guitar flanges and tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert’s New Thing-like split tones destabilize the ongoing program joined by flutists Daniel Agi, Helen Bledsoe and Norbert Rodenkirchen trilling textures as energetic as the percussionists’ ruffs. “Desert 7” provides a coda with extra gravitas supplied by sobbing reeds, tuba burbles and sul ponticello strings. A delicate flute-violin blend brings the final sequence full circle to the beginning.

Singular and striking simultaneously, this tome confirm how Fields has achieved his goals while creating dazzling musical expression

-Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Desert 1 2. Desert 2 3. Desert 3 4. Desert 4 5. Desert 5 6. Desert 6 7. Desert 7

Personnel: Udo Moll (trumpet); Matthias Muche (trombone); Melvyn Poore (tuba); Daniel Agi, Helen Bledsoe, Norbert Rodenkirchen (flute); Frank Gratkowski (clarinet); Ingrid Laubrock (soprano saxophone); Matthias Schubert (tenor saxophone); Axel Lindner, Hannah Weirich (violin); Annegret Mayer-Lindenberg, Axel Porath (viola); Niklas Seidl (cello); Scott Fields, David Stackenäs (guitar); Pascal Niggenkemper, Christian Weber (bass); Ramón Gardella (marimba, percussion); Arturo Portugal (vibraphone, percussion); Stephen Dembski (conductor)