With closed borders and venue restrictions biting, the release date for Kevin Field’s Soundtology album became a movable feast. The original proposal would have seen some of his New York band appear, but because of the pandemic, that plan was ditched. If he was flustered by these frustrating circumstances it didn’t show. Making a virtue out of necessity he engaged local musicians and launched his album anyway. It was a night to remember.
Field is one of our finest musicians and his reputation stretches far beyond these shores. He has previously recorded with highly-rated New York Jazz musicians and also with the best of New Zealand’s improvisers. As an adventurous musician, Field eschews stasis and his developmental arc is particularly evident with this latest album. He is an artist who arrives at a successful formula and then turns it on its head. With each album, he makes references to his earlier works, and then he moves foreword. Everything that has gone before becomes a springboard to a new moment and each iteration is better than that preceding it.
There is a lot to like about Field's new album Soundtology. The tunes are sublimely melodic, and as always, his trademark harmonic developments astound. I have always enjoyed his avoidance of cliche and in this case, there is something else. Even when upbeat, the tunes feel more contemplative, and the space afforded, lets the music speak with clarity. This is the album of a mature composer and it is deserving of wide acclaim.
The album has eleven tunes and features two quartets (alternating throughout). This provides contrast while not affecting the flow and continuity. All of these tunes belong together and each unit locates something special. The first quartet features Field (Piano Rhodes), Nir Felder (guitar), Orlando Le Fleming (bass) and Charles Haynes (drums). The second quartet has Field (piano, Rhodes) Mike Moreno (guitar), Matt Penman (bass) and Nate Wood (drums). These are heavy hitters and Field could not have chosen better crews to spin gold out of his compositions. I was immediately drawn to the inclusion of Moreno, one of the worlds great guitar improvisers. I once flew to Sydney just to catch a concert of his.
Soundtology is a beautifully presented album and it was recorded to perfection. It is an album to be enjoyed on many levels; for its beauty and freshness and for its accessibility. If ever there was an example of complex music made to sound easy, it is here. The tunes are beguiling and memorable, but underlying them are twists and turns which elevate the tunes into listening adventures. A good example is the first track "Quintus Maximus". It opens over an ostinato sequence, where a broken rhythmic pattern is established by bass and Rhodes. The intro is a teaser as it hints at possible directions without necessarily committing to them; then the melody soars and brings it together until the underlying ostinato phrases reappear. An interesting and enjoyable piece of music.
The second tune, "Good Friday" is a great composition. It is among the most melodic of Fields tunes and it has been around since he first recorded it on his 2012 Warner release Field of Vision. Back in 2012, the tune was a slower-paced offering. Over the last few years, I have heard it performed often; now, it has emerged as a punchier version of its former self. It is fascinating to hear good tunes like this under constant development. This is what Field does and it is his impulse toward reinvention that elevates him beyond the pack. It is not surprising that he was recently awarded a doctorate.
There is no better example of its ongoing trajectory than the version of "Good Friday" we heard at Wednesday’s live performance. It had been rearranged to include a bass clarinet and a soprano saxophone. There were two guitarists as in the album, but the addition of the horns gave us yet another vantage point from which to examine the composition. A band member told me afterwards that the charts were interestingly structured. They forced the soloists to think outside of the square and to avoid any formulaic approach.
"People factory" was the perfect vehicle for Moreno, Penman and Wood. This number is like silk in a ruffling breeze, I have never heard Moreno sound better (and he always sounds good). The responsiveness Field extracts from Wood and Penman is also marvellous. This is seamless interplay at its best. Actually, everything is great on this album and there’s plenty of variety. This one is 4.5 stars. My advice is, buy multiple copies and impress everyone with your hip good taste.
Album: Kevin Field (piano, Fender Rhodes), Mike Moreno, Nir Felder (guitar), Matt Penman, Orlando Le Fleming (bass), Charles Hayes, Nate Wood (drums).
Live gig: Kevin Field (piano, Fender Rhodes), Michael Howell & Keith Price (guitars), Nathan Haines (tenor, soprano saxophones), Lewis McCallum (bass clarinet), Cam McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums).
Radio 13 appreciates our partnership with John Fenton. Check out his other writings and reviews at jazzlocal32.com