Endless Field – Alive in the Wilderness(Biophilia Records BREP0019. Download review by Mary James)
Imagine trekking across a rocky plateau in Southern Utah, in brain-numbing heat, carrying acoustic instruments, homemade percussion and solar-powered recording equipment and then having the mental resources and physical stamina to record compositions and improvisations in the open air. Well this is Endless Field, an Americana duo comprising Ike Sturm on upright bass and Jesse Lewis on steel-stringed guitar, and the result is a work of arresting beauty. Throw in a National Geographic team to capture each track on film, some breathtaking landscapes, the buzz of bees and the chirping of birds right on cue, and you have a complete artform where the videos crown an already perfect album. In this instance knowing that Dance of the Bee was recorded in a bee-filled field of sunflowers, and that Old Man took shape alongside a stately old tree definitely adds to one’s enjoyment.
To be honest, Americana is a bit of a catch-all term and this music doesn’t fit any genre. It is perhaps best just to describe it as boundlessly optimistic and sensitive music offered as a paean to our planet. Sturm is a bass player who has performed with Theo Bleckmann and Maria Schneider and he is Music Director of Jazz at St Peter’s Church, Manhattan where his music and his faith converge, notably in his Jazz Mass. Lewis is known for his blistering fingerstyle, fusion of electronica, rock and jazz in his album Atticus, and he’s much in demand, appearing on diverse albums such as Talking Pictures with singer Jo Lawry (Sting) and with Australian trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis on Gullfoss, recorded live in Muri. Sturm and Lewis formed Endless Field after working together in a variety of contexts over ten years and hikes in upstate New York, the ‘endless’ in Endless Field referring to a lifetime’s pursuit of their craft. Their larger ensemble debut album Endless Field featured Ingrid Jensen and Donny McCaslin. This follow-up is just the two of them, with the natural world in the role of third musician – and also of muse.
The album consists of 17 tracks, around half are in-the-moment fleeting improvisations with titles such as Wind, Fire, Spirit, Moon. Freed from the obsessions of the studio, each artist was able to respond to the physical environment. The very first sound you hear in the opening track Life on Earth is the wind, it gently pervades the opening and closing of each track like a sigh. You notice the warmth of the bass, almost as if it too is breathing, utilising additional resonance from the rockface, particularly in Wolfhead, a solo bass improvisation. Heart was recorded in a roseate canyon, the musicians perched in such a precarious position that an adrenaline rush is readily apparent in the urgency of the music, Sturm swapping his bass for an acoustic bass guitar, Lewis providing the forward motion and the two guitars working as one. Those who enjoy the two guitar sound of Grigoryan Brothers will find much to admire in Endless Field’s Alive in the Wilderness. It is more than an album and a partnership, it is a celebratory statement of who we are and what we need to protect, with a hint of warning in the final track Prayer for the Earth.
All proceeds from the album go to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a group of lawyers and scientists working to safeguard the earth via practical solutions to environmental challenges. The record label Biophilia Records (home of the releases of Linda May Han Oh) sets out to have a positive impact on the environment and was founded by Fabian Almazan who recently appeared in the Downbeat 25 for the Future list. Mindful that downloads can leave you feeling you are missing out on something tangible, each album is released via download code printed on an 18-fold origami booklet – a thing of beauty in itself.
LINKS Video playlist of Alive in the WildernessBand website