You know how it goes. While doing something else, a sudden thought crosses the mind to completely detour your focus. As I was examining an atom or two of the huge body of promos amassed around the house and in the notebook, the realization of having not listened to Scott Fields for a long time occurred. A quick search caused a double surprise: not only the last record released by Fields at his own name dates from 2015, it’s also his first proper solo album. And it’s entirely acoustic.
The genesis of Burning In Water, Drowning In Flames is finely chronicled by the composer, so we are not dwelling on it – check for yourselves. The habit of structuring scores after pieces of illustrious writing has not been ditched by Fields, who utilized Charles Bukowski as compositional source for this occasion. Achieving a balance of intelligibility and actual consequence is difficult even for a single sentence, thus one imagines how hard a self-demanding musician tries to extend the effort to a full cycle.
The keyword here is “spacing”. Individual pitches, schismatic chords and unceremonious flurries are all informed by the quality that should be wished by every serious guitarist. That is to say, conveying a feel of accurate delineation within the silences, independently from the complexity of what’s being played. This particular ability warrants a listener’s semi-conscious acceptance of harmonic relationships whose decoding might otherwise be problematic.
This is especially true in the program’s second half: the “Drowning In Flames” suite is in fact built upon a quarter-tone tuning that makes a mockery of many so-called commonsensical approaches on the instrument (translation: you’ll never find Fields involved with scalar routines and ho-hum fingerings). In such a setting, the propagation of the upper partials complies with requirements too peculiar for the average ear. So it’s basically a case of learn to swim, or drown (pun intended).
Perhaps the reviewer has given excessive room to the guitar player. Still, remember that this is a set of compositions, and has to be evaluated accordingly. The gorgeously vibrating halos emanated by the protagonist’s steel-stringed flat-top would alone constitute a valid reason to deepen the study. And yet, the importance of this music cannot be reduced to a mere analysis of technical issues, or to “what-a-great-resonance” chit-chat.
Lesson learned, then. Never keep your eyes off Mr. Fields.