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Nate Dorward

To humour critics Fields likes to devise purposely meaningless catchphrases for his music – his latest is "transparent music." I guess I'll rise to the bait: that seems to me a pretty good description of his admirably lucid hour-long chamber-trio piece christangelfox. The band consists of Fields (on nylon-string guitar), clarinettist Guillermo Gregorio and cellist Matt Turner, all three of whom also make use of a "percussion array": four pieces of scrap metal donated by a sculptor friend, four pieces of stone, four pieces of wood. Despite the disc's striking title, the music is not especially devotional: this is the sound of calm thought rather than prayer. It's a rapt nocturne – languid and whimsical, full of soft hoots, wistful cries, and flintstone-spark showers of plinks and clanks. Boundaries become blurred: improvisation and composition are virtually impossible to tell apart, and the piece's even, unhesitating inner pulse overrides the usual distinctions between free time and meter. You hear this pulse most clearly in an eight-minute episode at the piece's centre that sounds like an anxious, sped-up version of Messiaen's "Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus." (Maybe there's something to the disc's devotional title after all....) The homemade percussion becomes more sporadic from this point on, and as the mood becomes darker and intenser one almost misses its cheerful, irritating jangle. In the end the piece doesn't so much resolve as come to rest, the piece's now-familiar themes restated softly and less surely, the musicians spinning them out finer and finer until at last they break. At times christangelfox recalls Gavin Bryars ("Allegrasco," especially) or Morton Feldman, or some of the AACM's gentler excursions, but basically this is completely sui generis. "Transparent music”? Maybe you could call it mood music – though what mood, I couldn't possibly say. You’ll just have to listen and find out.

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