The works of Samuel Beckett have been a recurrent source of inspiration for guitarist Scott Fields. Samuel is Fields' second effort at conveying the master's prose through pure sound, following Beckett (Clean Feed, 2007). Transposing the original text of Beckett's plays into precise pitches, chords and time signatures, Fields transforms Beckett's wordplay into melodies and harmonies that share more than a passing resemblance to jazz. Despite their cerebral origins and abstruse character, the ensuing works are in fact fairly accessible.
Eschewing pure free improvisation in favor of advanced compositional structures, Fields has long been an advocate of composer Stephen Dembski's post-serial harmonic system, which uses multiple tone rows to construct non-tonal scales. The subtle dissonances, odd intervals and angular melodies of Field's writing provide him and his sidemen with a bevy of timbre and pitch choices, lending their improvisations an oblique, enthralling character.
Joined by tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert, cellist Scott Roller and percussionist John Hollenbeck, Fields and company extrapolate three of Beckett's emotionally claustrophobic plays into evocative sound portraits. Fields' abstract compositions seamlessly fuse elaborate counterpoint, odd time signatures and unorthodox arrangements with sections of controlled group interplay, blurring the line between the written and the improvised.
Encapsulating a range of emotions, the episodic "Not I" careens with fervid angularity and bustling agitation while "Ghost Trio" ebbs with cinematic intrigue. Mirroring the play, "Not I" is structured around a series of repeated motifs, allowing each musician a chance to solo, with particular attention paid to Schubert, who leads the piece with an array of effusive, histrionic variations. Although "Ghost Trio" was originally coined in honor of Beethoven's Fifth Piano Trio, Fields avoids the obvious, setting the piece as a languid jazz ballad with noir overtones, showcasing the quartet's introspective side with a string of spare, bluesy meditations. "Eh Joe" is the album's conceptual centerpiece, progressively building from hushed pointillism to a strident, rock-inflected unison theme, emulating the original teleplay's escalating inner drama.
In league with Beckett, and earlier still, Mamet (Delmark, 2001), Samuel is another winning transposition of the written word into instrumental sonorities. Buoyed by fervid group interplay and compelling lyrical invention, these harmonically audacious and challenging compositions offer a wealth of ideas, much like the work of their dedicatee.
Personnel: Scott Fields: electric guitar; Matthias Schubert: tenor saxophone; Scott Roller: cello; John Hollenbeck: percussion.