Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Records In Review: Anthony Phillips--Field Day

A piece of advice to all y'all: don't order UK imports from Slothazon.comingsoonwepromise unless you don't have a choice. They've left me hanging well beyond the 2-3 week shipping estimate more than once.

Field Day is a long-time-coming 2-cd collection of acoustic guitar and stringed instrument pieces by Phillips, erstwhile member of Genesis from the dawny mists of time, when dinosaurs ruled the earth. His music has been described as a sort of tails to his former band's heads, a possible route for Gabriel and the boys if they hadn't decided to go all theatrical and generally rock out. He plays stuff very much in the English tradition--and when I say that, I mean from Dowland onward--with spread-out, overripe chords, incredible gentleness and only rare intersections with contemporary trends and practices. His actual living is keyboard-based library music (i.e., multi-purpose material for use by television companies, etc.) and commissions, but he's maintained a fairly regular output of albums over the past thirty years as well. A lot of his music makes excellent pm listening, a quality that I certainly don't sneer at anymore.

For those interested, I recommend checking out this book, which was part of the prog critical re-evaluation of the mid-to-late '90s and which contains a substantial section on Phillips as one of the genre's career rebels (the others being Fripp, Hammill and Oldfield).

I was a little wary of this one, as over the years I've tended to prefer AP's mixed-instrument recordings. His twelve-string album from the early '80s, appropriately titled Private Parts & Pieces V: Twelve, I found unfocused and meandering. Not to worry, though, as this one's definitely a keeper, and with enough variety to keep most devotees (and some others) happy. There's over a dozen different fretted creatures used, from 6-, 10- and 12-strings to cittern and bazouki, all evoking their own particular mood. Each instrument gets more-or-less its own chunk of the album. As far as the material goes, there are multi-part suites, longer works, one-offs, and brief impressions or bits of atmosphere. Many of the pieces within each instrumental sub-grouping are at least associated, if not deliberately continuous. Phillips' playing is in top form, and the recorded sound is excellent.

I like disc one better, as there are more things that grab your attention. The centrepiece is probably the "Concerto de Alvarez," an eight-minute 12-string piece with a lot of momentum that combines the guitarist's customary Spanglish motifs with some post-Genesis grandeur. The eight-part "Parlour Suite," on the other hand, is an incredibly restrained chamber piece (and on an interesting-sounding instrument--can't find a link to the maker) that contains nary a hint of rockism at all. Of the shorter pieces, there's another 12-string, "White Spider," which combines atmospherics and structure well; the title track, a shortie that has a lovely counterpointed melody; and "Bel Ami," named for the type of cittern used, which'll have you tapping your toes, or whatever it is you do to signify enjoyment.

Disc two is 3 parts wistful, 2 sombre and 1 light-hearted and as such, it's a little tougher going. My favourite tracks are some of the heavier-sounding ones, like the slower-than-slow-paced 10-string opener "Weeping Willow" and "Fallen City," a bazouki piece that starts like Chopin's Raindrop thingy and then really gets 'er going, like an angry Brit with, um, a bazouki. "Mudlark" is the album's sole mandolin piece and it's bright and shiny, alternating between 3- and 4-time. Some of the 6- and 12-string material on the second half is maybe too metrical and controlled for its own good, a complaint that I sometimes read about Phillips' guitar work.

There's a hell of a lot of music to go through here, well over two hours' worth, but the running order is well chosen, and in any case it's nice to cross-reference tracks and compare the sounds of the various instruments...even if you're not a geetar geek. Strongly recommended, if you can find it.