In a recent conversation, Dale Fielder mentioned that he was a musician. When asked what instrument he played, he answered without hesitation, “I play all four saxophones.” Over his recorded career, it is hard to pen down which saxophone is Fielder’s primary instrument or which one he sounds best on. He plays them all equally well. He has displayed them all throughout thirteen recordings starting in 1993. Most recently, he has concentrated on the baritone sax through his last three recordings: Howling Monk (2003), Baritone Sunride (2005) and Plays The Music of Pepper Adams (2007). On this new recording, Stellar Moments, Fielder plays no baritone and concentrates the bulk of the material on the tenor sax, also performing two compositions on soprano and one on alto.
Fielder also has a penchant for finding new or unheard jazz talent. He brought back the legendary ex-Mingus pianist Jane Getz from obscurity and introduced pianist Danny Grissett who is now with Tom Harrell and taking NYC by storm. Here in his new group, Angel City Quartet, he introduces another considerable jazz talent in pianist Greg Gordon Smith. And along with bassist Bill Markus (who looks and sounds like the late Albert Stinson) and the ubiquitous Thomas White on drums, Angel City Quartet sounds like a tight, cohesive ensemble that belies the fact that they have only been together just over a year. They play like a band, not like a collection of separate individuals just getting through the session like a day at the office. There’s a lot of passion here.
The music contained in Stellar Moments flows like a movie soundtrack as it is sequenced much like a suite. The first three compositions are from Fielder’s own pen. From the opening bars of the title cut, you can tell that this is not your father’s jazz! The shifting 7/4-4/4 composition is a most exciting 4:30 minutes of jazz! It flows into the trance-like The Quickening where Fielder makes his only appearance on alto conjuring up Bird meeting Trane in an impassioned solo. The loose interplay of the rhythm section during Smith’s solo is sublime. Next is the elegant Patricia’s Flow, a 7/4 ballad where Fielder introduces his tenor. Next up is an intelligent and swinging rendition of the Joe Henderson classic, Punjab followed by the sprightly, danceable Fielder bossa original, Escapade With Ese, which incidentally has an affectuous melody. Wayne Shorter’s Yes And No is certainly a standout composition that should see quite a bit of airplay. Fielder’s re-arrangement gives it a ‘Maiden Voyage’ rhythm which gives this tune a definite contemporary flavor. The standard The Night Has A Thousand Eyes is given a straight down the middle straight-ahead jazz treatment with White displaying some deft brush work. Fielder’s sensuous writing is displayed on Mulu, a 6/8 Latin tune that again features White. The closer is Thelonius Monk’s I Mean You, where Markus opens the soloing with an incredible arco solo.
Dale Fielder is an anachronism. Yet he sounds thoroughly modern and up to date. One can imagine Fielder on the bandstand comfortably sidling up next to a Kenny Dorham or Art Farmer as his sound is classic. Fielder himself has said that of all the saxophonists currently playing, he feels more in common with saxophonist Scott Hamilton. Perhaps this is because Fielder is also a product of the 1970s, the so-called lost generation that spawned such other underrated sax greats such as Billy Harper, Bobby Watson and Bennie Maupin. In any event, Stellar Moments should go a long way to bringing Fielder closer to the recognition he so rightly deserves. This for the simple fact that so few are unabashedly and unapologetically pursuing this type of modern, updated, straight-ahead jazz today. Most of today’s current artists attempt to distance themselves from traditional jazz and seek a fusion with other world music influences. They do so in an attempt to be considered ‘contemporary’ because traditional or straight ahead jazz has been judged old fashioned. Yet here in Stellar Moments, while embracing the tradition, Fielder sounds completely contemporary. Fielder has been quoted as saying that he is not ashamed of the word jazz. Thank God for that!