There are few too recordings issued these days centered around the robust and sometimes surprisingly sensitive-sounding baritone saxophone. The potentially awkward horn, largest of the commonly-played saxophones, was really never considered a ‘soloing’ instrument until Duke Ellington started featuring the great baritone player Harry Carney in his orchestras in the late 1920s. But it was the emergence of Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams and Serge Chaloff in the 1950s, the heyday of the bebop era, that really gave the instrument widespread public notice and showed that, in the right hands, the lumbering instrument could be played just as nimbly as any alto. Still, when one thinks of the great baritone players that have made a name for themselves since the 1950s, the list is short: Nick Brignola (who passed in 2002), Cecil Payne, Ronnie Cuber and Hamiet Bluiett are the only ones that immediately come to mind. Flash forward to the year 2004 and enter Dale Fielder.
Fielder grew up in Philadelphia, where he began studying music as a child and learned to play a variety of horns, including oboe, bassoon and tuba, in addition to clarinet and saxophone. He later attended the University of Pittsburgh’s Jazz Studies Program and played locally for a couple of years before eventually moving to New York City in 1980 to spread his wings. He began playing with some of the best musicians the city had to offer and his skill and experience continued to develop. In 1983, he founded his own jazz label, Clarion Jazz (the same label this album is released under), and recorded his first date as a leader, entitled Scene From A Dream. His hard work paid off as he started to gain widespread recognition for his original and daring style. In 1984, he was awarded a National Endowment For The Arts grant, which allowed him to complete his first large ensemble piece, The Aquarian, for alto saxophone and chamber orchestra.
In 1988, Fielder relocated to Los Angeles and became a fixture in the city’s local jazz scene, where he was primarily known as an alto and tenor player, even though he also played soprano and baritone. But it was in mid-2004 that he made the decision to play baritone exclusively, and this album, Baritone Sunride, is the fruit of that decision and his first all-baritone recording. A hard-bop outing through and through, listening to Baritone Sunride gives you a rare glimpse of the power and beauty of this large horn when played by a master of Fielder’s talent.
This collection of ten tunes (four standards and the remainder Fielder originals), also shows what a great composer he is. No matter how complex the chord changes, how odd the time signatures or how fast the tempos, the melodies are imminently hummable and stay with you long after the last note has faded. He also gives a nod to the influence of the great baritone players that have preceded him by including some of the standards that they often played. "Muezzin’" is a Pepper Adams original and the arrangement of Rogers and Hart’s "Lover" is in line with Pepper’s style of playing up-tempo tunes - with a variety of meter changes and long trades with the drums. "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody," written by Irving Berlin, was a favorite of Nick Brignola and "End Of A Love Affair" was often played by another master of the big horn, Charles Davis. While the influence of these legends are apparent in Fielder’s sound, he has created an approach to the instrument that is entirely his own. His tone is rich and vibrant, his phrasing is sharp and fluid and his solos are well-constructed yet endlessly inventive.
His rhythm section, the other three pieces of the Dale Fielder Quartet, are no less talented and are all masters in their own right. Pianist Jane Getz (by the way, no relation to sax legend Stan Getz) and drummer Thomas White are members of the original Dale Fielder Quartet, which played its first gig on New Year’s Day, 1995. Bassist Trevor Ware joined the group in 1999. The benefit of their longtime alliance is obvious. The telepathic-like interaction they maintain is one of the factors that allows this group to rise a notch above in a field that abounds in great groups.If you are a fan of the baritone saxophone, you will absolutely love this album. Fielder’s chops are unequaled. I honestly don’t believe that there is a better proponent of the instrument alive and playing today. If you’ve never been a bari fan, the explosive creativity and enormous passion displayed on this recording may very well change your mind.