Barclay comes nine years post Samuel, second instalment (after Beckett) of the “Beckett Trilogy” devised by Scott Fields to research the compositional and improvisational possibilities offered by his favorite writer’s output. Quite a span, but it was worth the wait. This embodiment of Fields’ Ensemble – including, besides the leader, Matthias Schubert on tenor sax, Scott Roller on cello and Dominik Mahnig on drums – probes the interstices of instrumental momentum with the earnestness of a focused scientist, at the same time releasing the energy of a well-oiled engine that, for mysterious reasons, defies the conventional rules of propulsion.
The music, as we expect by composers at this level, is intelligibly eloquent. It is also defined by a sort of severe humor – not easy to detect, but it is there – and frequently based on the alternance of inquisitive urgency and brief anticipatory silences; the latter feature is particularly evident in the first movement, “Krapp’s Last Tape”. One gets the feeling of musicians eager to apprehend what the others have studied and practiced; talkative, yet respectful enough to abruptly stop whenever someone enters a new statement. This somewhat hiccuping reciprocity generates a drive that is unusual, to say the least. Moreover, the piece imparts a fundamental nugget of wisdom: never trust the security of a steady beat. However, explaining why this may go against most people’s inability to identify, understand and appreciate the innumerable fractional cadences of existence is something we’re not going to do in this context.
The other two tracks confirm the band’s overall tightness. “…but the clouds…” explores more radical dynamic changes, the mood systematically swinging between a measured atonality and riotous discharges. The explicitness of the textural and contrapuntal arrangement is maintained throughout the album; the final episode “Catastrophe” substantiates the theory while granting additional space for the players to showcase their impressive control. Ultimately, it is exactly this sober virtuosity – in conjunction with the individual originalities – that qualifies Barclay as a truly brilliant release, for which numerous listening hours will not be wasted.