Scott Fields Ensemble – Beckett (CF 069)
Henning Sieverts – Symmetry (Pirouet 2007)
Both of these releases have prose as their muse and include drummer John Hollenbeck as a sideman. This is not surprising as Hollenbeck is a meticulous musician who has a proclivity for precision and a propensity for delicate phrasing. Electric guitarist Scott Fields fronts a quartet that employs free improvisation to depict more the form and feel than the storyline of five plays by Samuel Beckett while German bassist Henning Sieverts and his quintet cleverly construct a program of palindromic playfulness with 14 cuts based upon both literary and musical symmetry.
Beckett is best known as a minimalist who highlighted the conundrum of humanity’s despair in conjunction with the will to go on; Fields however has given him a surprisingly upbeat interpretation. Cellist Scott Roller and saxophonist Matthias Schubert are the two additional performers who round out this interesting quartet and they fit very well into what alternates between engaging dialogue and freeform soliloquy. Hollenbeck propels more with staccato jabs than by laying down a discernible rhythm track to set the overall prosody, setting the stage for creative interpretations. “Breath” maintains the original brevity of the stage-work but restages birth-cry to whimper while riffing off of the “birth-life-death” theme. The extended compositions pick up on bits and pieces of the originals: a pause, a single structure, the gestalt to develop a lively musical discussion of the dramatic material.
Sieverts has chosen to title each of his compositions on Symmetry with single phrases that can be read the same forward as backward. As such, “Top Spot” turns into a cool take on the hackneyed exercise used to warm up school concert bands and choirs, whereas “Sun is in Us” is a warm forum for stretching out. Tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed imparts his beautiful tone and interesting improv to these word games. Trombonist Johannes Lauer and pianist Achim Kaufmann blend with Speed for full-throated voicings on compositions like the swinging “Deep Speed.” Sieverts, in addition to maintaining the bottom and displaying some lovely arco work, has cleverly imbedded his own musical palindromes into each piece. This allows the more theoretically inclined to uncover the symmetrical A-B-A-B-A form of the gentle “We Few” or the symmetrical augmented triads in the free-formish “Emit Time.” Hollenbeck is his usual perfectionist self, adding the ideal coloration through a multitude of sounds that include bells, pops, dings and taps or providing spot-on rhythm for the more traditional swingers.