Scott Fields is nothing if not an academic composer, but he's a visionary one. 48 Motives is a scored composition that is based on 48 eight-bar melodic fragments. These are built on a tonal system designed by Stephen Dembski of the interaction of two 12-pitch tone rows that are used to construct nontonal scales. It has been simplified and notated for improvisers exclusively. 48 Motives is written for four or more treble instruments in combination with two rhythm units, with at least a bass player and percussionist in each. Then, for the treble instruments, Fields composed 12 motives constructed on 12 closely related scales that were not related to the other three scale sets. Then he divvied them up among the other groups so that each had 12 of their own and four from the other three instruments. Finally he composed a rhythm element, giving 24 to one and 24 to another. Then a conductor uses the American Manual Alphabet as well as traditional conducting gestures to select motives, instrumentation, dynamics, tempo, and more. As musicians move back and forth between motives, the basic stock for their improvs changes. Now, this is all heady stuff, is it not? And all of it would be useless were it not for its compelling possibilities and the way those possibilities are explored by the instrumentalists at work here. And what a group of musicians he assembled. For the recorded premier he used pianist Marilyn Crispell, cellist Matt Turner, and his bandmates -- John Padden and Geoff Brady -- for a rhythm section, among others. Stephen Dembski conducted. There are so many things going on at once in this music, all of them so instinctually related and timbrally exotic, it's difficult to nail down any one thing except for the dynamic range that follows a circular trajectory of empathy and force, led by Crispell. This music is magic, wonder, and mystery all rolled into one, and beguilingly accessible. Let's face it, folks, Fields is a genius.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek