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Dale Fielder Reviews


Saxophonist/composer Dale Fielderís new CD, Stellar Moments (Clarion Jazz CJ80810), is the 13th in a series of recordings that began in 1993. It follows on the heals of his 2007 release, Plays The Music Of Pepper Adams (Clarion Jazz CJ80707), ending a 4 year cycle of primarily performing and recording on the baritone sax. On Stellar Moments, Fielder displays striking abilities on the soprano, alto and tenor saxophones. He also debuts a new cooperative quartet, Angel City Quartet, introducing yet another talented pianist in Greg Gordon Smith along with stalwart regulars Bill Markus on bass and Thomas White on drums. The new CD features new twists on a few well known jazz classics, but the real stars of the CD are Fielders new originals. Fielder has found a way to compose music that combines jazz tradition and authentic melodies with a simplicity that easily communicates, yet provides a platform for improvisation bringing intensity, complexity and challenge. He makes acoustic jazz sound very contemporary. I got together with Dale Fielder just before his CD release performance at Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles to discuss his latest recording.

Lezlee Colrane: What are your thoughts on releasing what is now your 13th CD, Stellar Moments?

Dale Fielder: Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is, wow! 13 CDs! Thatís a lot of CDs to still be relatively unknown! You know? (Laughs) It used to bother me that every time my name was mentioned in the press, it was usually followed by the comment, Ďdeserving of greater recognitioní, or Ďnational jazz sceneís best kept secretí. But Iíve learned to become grateful. Iím just grateful that in the busy complexity of whatís become our modern day to day existence, that someone found the time to listen, let along feel moved to write and comment. You dig? That latter comment was coined by my dear friend, the late LA jazz writer Bob Agnew who passed in Ď07. And as time passes, I realize that Iím fortunate to not only continue to play this music and having just enough gigs to keep a band together; but also to have recorded and documented my music for the past 15 years. And that is pretty much what I have set out to accomplish from the beginning. Itís pretty much what any jazz musician would aspire towards. For me, the only thing left is to be able to make a living solely through music, you know? To get more work, be heard by larger and larger audiences; which would lead to more and more work. Yeah, I still have that dream.

Lezlee Colrane: Why no baritone sax?

Dale Fielder: No real reason. And also, necessity is the mother of invention. My baritone was in the shop. (Laughs)

Lezlee Colrane: Of the nine tunes on the CD, you played one tune on the alto; two on the soprano and the remaining six tunes all on tenor making this a predominantly tenor CD. Why so much more tenor than the other saxes?

Dale Fielder: It just ended up that way, playing predominately more tunes on the tenor. The tunes I chose were tunes I usually played tenor on more so. Again, necessity is the mother of invention. Certain tunes that bring a certain vibe that I am hearing will ďcallĒ for the tenor like my originals, Patriciaís Flow, Escapade With Ese and Mulu. Besides that, on the standards, I just could not see (or hear) not playing the tenor on Joe Hendersonís Punjab and Wayne Shorterís Yes And No. And Night Has A Thousand Eyes, I got from the late great Harold Land who in his last years would always start his gigs off with that tune. And man, did he play it beautifully! I wish more of the world could have heard that; how he was playing in the last years of his life. Those were some of my most inspired moments listening to him play this tune, what he could do with it and how, as he discovered, the tune just lays so right for the tenor sax. God, I miss him! He was playing at his best right up to the end.

Lezlee Colrane: Speak a little more about inspiration, what inspires you and particular what your inspirations were for Steller Moments

Dale Fielder: Ecstatic moments, moments when you feel so alive, you know? Iíve been fortunate to have a lot of that lately personally. You know Iíve just gotten engaged. That can do it for you. Thus thereís Patriciaís Flow and Stellar Moments. It happens always musically when I am playing with these guys, the ACQ and even the DFQ (Dale Fielder Quartet) with Jane Getz. Also with Grammy-nominated vocalist Sweet Baby Jíai. That sister is just incredible. Jane and I are playing more together these days with Jíai. But sometimes just the sound of all the music that I have heard is what inspires me. Yeah, those sounds.

LC: Whatís the greatest live musical experience you ever heard?

DF: The greatest live jazz performance I ever heard was a Sonny Stitt/Dexter Gordon double-bill at the Village Gate back in í79 or í80. Dexter was big, riding high on his return to the U.S. And Stitt had to open for him. He was mad as hell and came out stone cold sober. He had Kenny Barron, Buster Williams and Ben Riley with him and he came out with only his tenor! He made no announcements, just knitted his eyebrows and barreled down with that tenor. Stitt came to play, period! It was one of those rare nights that Stitt played beyond his self and everybody there knew it. It was transcendental. Me and the whole audience were transfixed. So were Kenny and Buster who would turn around, look at each other and chuckle and shake their heads in disbelief of what they were hearing. I never heard Stitt play that way before and I knew Stitt and had lessons from him. He played like he was Trane. I never heard Trane live, but the way Stitt played that night, I could easily imagine what Trane might have sounded like live. Such intensity and every note was dead on and a pearl. Stitt left no prisoners and we all started to feel sorry for Dexter who had to follow THAT! In fact, as great as Dexter was, he was anti-climatic after Stittís set that night. What got into Stitt that night? And the sound of his tenor . . . . aw man! Like blazing lightning! This one moment, this one performance in particular, is the sound I try to capture whenever I play the tenor. I can never forget it and never will. Itís beyond any words I could come up with to explain . . .

LC: You also recorded Punjab and Yes And No by Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter. Talk about what those two saxophonists mean to you.

DF: Well Wayne is our leader; our General. We all look to see what he comes up with next and attempt to follow suit. He is perhaps the last great writer in jazz of that kind of stature. And you know we did an all Wayne Shorter CD back in 1996, Dear Sir: Tribute To Wayne Shorter that was very successful. As you know, that was a top-ten CD that put me on the map so to speak. And Wayne very graciously was supportive of the project and gave it his blessing. I was always grateful to his late wife Anna Maria, who brought Wayne and a party of ten to the CD release performance at the Bel-Age Hotel that year. Well, we actually recorded an earlier version of Yes And No that was for that CD. In fact, we did 2 successful takes of it with Jane Getz that didnít make it on to the CD. I remember how hard it was to decide which was better as they both were slamminí. We played it in itís original up tempo version. For Stellar Moments, we re-arranged it by slowing the tempo way down and using a ĎMaiden Voyageí type rhythm.

Smokiní Joe Henderson was a player Iíve always admired and this is the first time Iíve been able to record one of his tunes, even though I wrote and recorded a tribute to him on my first CD Free Flow, an original composition entitled, The Man From Lima. Joe was from Lima, Ohio not too far from my hometown Midland, PA. So we knew about Joe early on, his being a local legend and all. For me this would be about the mid-1960s. Back then he was the sound of the future. I first met Joe back in the 70s when I was going to Pitt at one of Nathan Davisí Jazz Seminars. What impresses me the most about Joe is how compact his sound is. On record, it sounds so big and large like heís gonna just blow you away. But in person it surprisingly doesnít have a lot of volume and sounds more compact yet is very muscular and articulate. I like the fact that you can hear Bird in Joe in the way he articulates his phrases. I think thatís why he never used a metal mouthpiece. In fact, itís because of Joe that Iíve switched from a metal to a hard rubber mouthpiece on tenor. I wanted to get the same way of articulating phrases that I easily can on alto in which Iíve always used a hard rubber mouthpiece. Punjab hands down is my favorite composition of Joeís and Iíve always wanted to record it. Punjab is a very challenging composition and I think we pulled it off pretty good.

LC: Could you talk about your new group Angel City Quartet?

DF: Yeah. Circumstances came about where we all found ourselves on a series of gigs at the Marina City Club in Marina del Rey, CA that started around the 4th of July 2008. I believe Jane Getz had a big money country & western gig in San Diego with her husband Bob Tucker. Edwin Livingston was off touring with Queen Latifah. I looked up one morning and saw my man on the Today show playing bass with her! (laughs) The other bassist I always call, Trevor Ware, was out touring with Azar Lawrence somewhere, I believe. The fact they werenít available for the first time in a very long time afforded me the opportunity to call on Greg Gordon Smith and my old buddy Bill Markus. The results from the first tune on was just magic. I kind of expected it would, because of Greg. Earlier in May, Greg and I recorded in a live performance as a duo together that was just off the hook. So I was really feeling his playing. Where Jane and I are very similar in our playing, Greg is younger and comes from a whole different perspective. He works a lot with film composer Patrick Williams and brings that kind of broad composerís sensibility to his playing. Heís not a bebopper like Jane and I are and this contrasts in a certain way with me. Unlike a bebopper, he leaves a lot of space open in the music. You can feel heís always thinking and looking for something different to play and if he doesnít hear it, he plays nothing at all. Me being a bebopper, I can fill up all that space. It makes me go in a different direction improvisationally. The Duo recording we did together showed this to me. It was a totally gratifying experience and Iím glad we got it down on tape. Bill is just a monster bassist. Big sound, strong and great endurance. He gets stronger and stronger as the night wears on. He knows his instrument and the various jazz traditions. He is a quoter and puts a lot of humor in his playing. He is known for his unique arco (bowed) solo style. He is also one of my closest friends. Thomas is one of the unsung great drummers in jazz. In an age before the drum machine, he would have been lauded as one of the greats. We call him ĎMr. Tasteí and I have been playing with him for so long, I donít know what Iíd do without him on drums. He knows me better than any other player period. He anticipates my licks and interprets my compositions so perfectly because he understands and feels my musical sensitivities so well. Now, he does this for every other band leader he has played with! Pianists love him as he plays so perfect for the piano trio. Thomas knows how to create great intensity without a lot of volume. A technician with heart and soul. To me, he is a cross between Jack DeJohnette, Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones. A great drummer and an even greater human being.

LC: Dale, how do you keep yourself motivated. In an era where jazz is so obviously marginalized, how do you stay up and keep the creative juices flowing?

DF: Well, if you are an artist in the truest sense of the word, you canít help but be self-sustaining. I canít tell you how many times Iíve announced: ďIíve quit music!Ē, bummed out by the absurdity of my situation in the music industry. To feel that you have so much to give musically, but canít. To have worked so hard to attain this level of musical talent, yet have to support yourself with a day job while ones are paid millions with much less is absolutely heart-breaking and very frustrating. But somehow, after the emotions calm down, and once again you look around and see the beauty of the world and the universe that surrounds us, I canít help but be so moved that I have to express this beauty in sound and vibration as only I know how to do. To create and bring this kind of beauty and goodness into the world through sound and vibration, ---music, to me has to be one of the greatest callings possible in life.