Wrestling with the notion of balancing both formal construction and creative spontaneity has allowed Scott Fields (b 1952) to compose a powerful body of work with ties to extramusical concerns from the realms of literature, philosophy, and science. Seven Deserts (2019), rather than operating from a fixed narrative structure with predetermined events, lays out the ground rules for a manifestation that is absolutely identical in every performance in its operations and sonic vocabulary, but with each realization completely unique in internal detail and musical interaction. Improvisation fleshes out the structure yet also embeds itself in the musical foundation to help determine the overall shape. The conductor is improvising to the same extent that the individual players are and may set forces in motion, allow them to work, and then, based on the results, initiate the next iteration.
In Seven Deserts, Fields has created a work that has a sense of loss and unnameable dread coexisting with an objectivist appreciation of aesthetic beauty and balance. He shifts the focus between foreground and background, hyperactivity versus the static, saturated sound and quietude. By recording Seven Deserts in the performance hall in Cologne, both with and without an audience, Fields was able to have the best of both worlds.
Listening through the set, one hears deserts in full bloom: vivacious, juicy, and ripe with the players' interactions, virtuosic solo outings, and varied sonic environments. There are elegiac clouds that suddenly are scattered with Euro-jazz disruptions. Baroque-sounding flute harmonies splinter into jazzy riffs that never settle into unisons but spiral outward. A tense groove reminiscent of Miles Davis's On the Corner period shatters into shards of noise and floating tones. We hear roiling saxophones and vibraphone kicked over the edge by electric guitar punctuations and roaring tenor sax expletives. The final movement reveals an impression of Debussy as orchestrated by Webern, which opens into fractured solo guitar vs the ensemble and then resolving into strange attractors－pools of repeated activities without repetition and a sudden end.
Fields has chosen his players wisely, an orchestra of virtuosic soloists, including members of Ensemble Musikfabrik and other new music groups from Cologne, as well as freelancers drawn both from the region and other corners of the world.
"Seven Deserts offers an array of lively departures and unanticipated trajectories." — The Wire
"Seven Deserts is a work that continuously alternates and combines distinctive solo voices with a contrapuntal interplay at once distinguished by its wedding of complexity and clarity. Every musician has a highly developed sense of timbre, and the sonic quality is seamless." — NYC Jazz Record
"Long time followers of Scott Fields’s music will find this recording comfortingly familiar, that is to say, threateningly challenging." — Only Strings