Howling Monk by the Dale Fielder Group/Force is my brother Dale Fielder’s 8th and 9th recording, by virtue of it being Clarion Jazz’s first double CD release. It very well may prove to become a historic release. There is much to like on these two compact discs: the telepathic interplay of the four Group/Force members (there’s nothing like a band that stays together); the exciting collection of jazz classics and new originals; a 60+ minute jazz suite in 5 movements with a prelude and 2 interludes; the seamless bonding of classic jazz improvisation with jazz composition on the level of Ellington’s, Mingus’, Evans’ or even Gershwin’s extended works; the introduction of a major new voice on that much loved, but often neglected instrument - the baritone saxophone; the documentation of one of the few saxophonists in jazz who actually plays all four saxophones not as mere doubles, but with an individual voice on all four horns; and the further blossoming of a major new piano talent in young Danny Grissett, a young man destined to do great things in jazz. All in all, the listener will truly feel that she or he, has gotten their money’s worth in purchasing this new double CD.
From the very first cut, Ad Astra, one is immediately struck by the feeling of familiarity and newness that the members of the Group/Force effortlessly convey. In mining an obscure original by baritone sax legend Pepper Adams as his baritone debut, Fielder proves a point that he told me many years ago that “people foolishly think that the bebop idiom has been exhausted. That there’s nothing new to say. There is no other better medium or higher form of music where one can use structure to liberate one’s improvisations. Where else can you play the same tunes over and over again for a lifetime and never run out of discovering new ideas and ways to play them? Imagine what Bird or Trane would sound like now? Easy, - just listen to (Sonny) Rollins or Charles (McPherson). Mastering the bebop idiom has made them well acknowledged as among the greatest musical improvisers alive on the planet today. There’s so few of them because few have really truthfully mastered the idiom.” On hearing Ad Astra, it is apparent that Fielder is well on his way to mastering the idiom. He starts his solo at a level most musicians end with and takes us on a trip to further levels of urgency and passion. And thus the formula is established throughout these two discs as Grissett, Ware, and White perfectly match Fielder with heartfelt intensity throughout. The high point of the first disc comes on My Favorite Things, a composition that is curiously absent from most musicians’ repertoire. Most feel that it is sacred Coltrane territory and Fielder says that for a long time he too never considered playing the tune. A conversation with Fielder’s manager Leonard Herring, Jr. was most illuminating as he booked Coltrane into Babe Baker’s Jazz Corner while a student at the University of Cincinnati back in the 1960s, and maintained a continual personal and professional relationship with Coltrane until his untimely death in 1967. Herring said that he has never heard anyone evoke the spirit and sound of Trane on the soprano, yet you are aware that this is a different player altogether. You can hear the audience’s reaction confirming Herring’s statement. They just go nuts! Truly gutsy stuff!
However, it is on the second disc featuring Fielder’s major opus, Suite: Clarity, that Dale Fielder fully emerges. Suite: Clarity unfolds seamlessly from beginning to end. A true jazz suite and a major work that just gets better on repeated listenings. For the exception of the ballad, all of the movements are in various grooves of 7/4 time, thus making the suite very accessible to the casual listener. Fielder plays throughout with such abandonment and authority. He never takes the safe road and is intent on playing pure emotions. Everything he plays is so connected emotionally. It has been said about Fielder that he is not afraid to shoot from the hip. Here is someone who has something urgent to say and knows how to say it. Fielder and Grissett never fail to deliver the goods throughout. I found Suite: Clarity so engaging, that I completely lost track of time. It seems that the suite is over far too soon, even though it is a little more than an hour long. The high points of the second disc are Fielder and Grissett just ripping apart their solos on Angelic Gifts, The Calling and the killer closer, You Can Hide, But You Can’t Deny. There is also the awesome beauty of a true modern-day ballad in Glimpse of the Goddess (dig Grissett’s Interlude that leads into Glimpse). Also, Trevor Ware’s arco feature on Prelude and White and Grissett’s features on Interludes deserve special mention.
his CD firmly establishes Dale Fielder as perhaps one of the missing links in jazz – an artist who is firmly established in the jazz tradition, yet is one who is looking into the future of jazz and is constantly coming up with new things and new ways to grow. I think with this new CD, we are witnessing the emergence of an important jazz composer and saxophonist. We may want to hide from this fact, but after listening to You Can Hide, But You Can’t Deny, I don’t think any of us can deny Dale Fielder any longer.
released February 1, 2003
Dale Fielder - soprano, alto, tenor & baritone sax
Danny Grissett - piano
Trevor Ware - bass
Thomas White - drums
Produced by Dale Fielder
Leonard Herring, Jr. - Executive Producer
Recorded by Jim Merod/Bluport Sound
Photography by Jim Merod Joel Milder
Graphic Design by Dean Lee
Recorded November 23, 2002
@The Howling Monk, Inglewood, CA