Scott_fields_christ_span3 Jeff_parker-the_relatives_span3 Jeff_parker_and_scott_fields-song_songs_song_span3
March 2005

Scott Fields Ensemble
Christangelfox
482 Music
Jeff Parker
The Relatives
Thrill Jockey
Jeff Parker and Scott Fields
Song Songs Song
Delmark Records

All three players on guitarist Scott Field's Christangelfox are credited as percussionists, clinking and tinkling various instruments that aren't listed in the notes but are probably akin to anything shiny on shelves at any Williams-Sonoma. As the clattering, nonenchanting and ceaseless din of the rhythmless percussion hangs in the background, Fields noodles in minor modes on a nylon-guitar, Guillermo Gregorio drones eerily or chirps curtly on clarinet and the usually excellent cellist Matt Turner bows wilted lines in accompaniment, sounding utterly uninspired. It's an hour-long stab at creating a stark, abstract landscape that fails because the musicians hardly sound engaged and rely too heavily on the tiresome free-jazz gambit of answering one non sequitur squawk with another. Christangelfox ends up a waste of time for all concerned.

Guitarist Jeff Parker teams with an electric guitar-equipped Fields for a series of duets on Song Songs Song (Delmark), and, not surprisingly, the results are just as free as Christangelfox-and just as boring. The album opens and closes with pieces by Parker; sandwiched in between are four "Untitled" pieces by Fields where the pair contrast dirty and clean tones ("Untitled, 1968"), share a wealth of dissonant harmonies ("Untitled, 2004") and spend many minutes trading complicated phrases reminiscent of Parker's work in the math-rock group Tortoise. The incessant exploration produces not a single a memorable moment.

Why doesn't Jeff Parker ditch arty pretension and spend more time honing the group sound of records like The Relatives? His introverted melodies work much better when tempered by music with steady rhythm. This polyglot disc has drummer Chad Taylor of the Chicago Underground groups providing rhythms that often evoke the music of Asian, African and South American countries while the rest of the band sounds decidedly modern. "Instanbul" starts the disc with a mysterious Middle Eastern flavor that gives way to the electric-Miles indebted "Mannerisms." But save for Taylor's drumming, the musicianship on The Relatives isn't as bright as it should be to fully tackle the ideas Parker and Co. chase after. As the pulsating waves of "Toy Boat," a nice bebop take on Marvin Gaye's "When Did You Stop Loving Me?" and the delightful Fender Rhodes-fueled bounce of the Brazilian number "Bean Stalk" attest, the group can strike an infectious groove. But keyboardist Sam Barsheshet, bassist Chris Lopes and Parker just don't compel as soloists. While their limitations don't keep the proceedings from being enjoyable, it is hard to imagine returning to The Relatives for repeated listens.

Originally published in March 2005
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