SCOTT YANOW'S LINER NOTES – "SCENE FROM A DREAM"
The long overdue release of “Scene From A Dream” is a historic event. It was not only the recording debut as a leader of saxophonist Dale Fielder but it contains valuable contributions by the late great pianist Geri Allen from 1983.
At the time, Dale Fielder was 25, living in New York with Geri Allen, and in the early stages of his career. Born and raised in Midland, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, he began playing music from an early age, studying clarinet, tenor, alto and baritone saxophone, oboe, bassoon, and tuba. “My brother, who was 19 years older than me, indoctrinated me into jazz around 1962,” remembers Fielder. He gained important experience writing and playing with the Fielder Brothers Quintet and in high school performing with the R&B group The Ohio Supremes. After attending the University of Pittsburgh and meeting Geri Allen, he moved to New York in 1980 and took Steve Coleman’s place with the Mighty Sparrow (a popular dance band).
“It was an exciting period for me. Being with Geri, I had the opportunity to see the high level of dedication that she had on a daily basis and was inspired to find my own voice as a composer. At the time I was quite shy but Geri really believed in me. When I got the funds to produce a record, Geri pushed me out there and urged me to make this session. It wouldn’t exist if it were not for her.”
Dale Fielder had only recorded once before, two years earlier as a sideman on trombonist Artie Simmons’ album “Ababio”, and it would not be until 1993, a decade later, that he would record his second album. While he is well featured on alto during the six songs that comprise the “Scene From A Dream” session, he saw the project as an opportunity to present himself as a jazz composer. “I’m really out of the bebop tradition and Charlie Parker is in everything that I do musically. But I don’t live in the 1940s and ‘50s and I wanted to write music that was relevant to our current period. I created a type of composition that uses a pulse rhythm as opposed to the swing rhythm with walking basslines. But at the same time, I wanted to be able to solo with the same feeling over the chord changes that I could on the standards.”
At the time (Feb. 23, 1983), Geri Allen was also near the beginning of her career. She had made her recording debut three months earlier (other than some sets with her college bands) on altoist Oliver Lake’s “Plug It”. However, she was already a long way towards developing her own approach to the piano. Fielder had met Michael Logan when they performed with Artie Simmons’ band. “We became friends, did gigs together, and I always called him to play bass. Drummer Greg Bufford, who was Philly Joe Jones’ protégé, was my best friend in New York. Like me, he always hustled and was ready to play any type of gig.” Percussionist Rob White is technically Dale’s nephew although he thinks of him as his brother. “His Mom is my sister and, since she is 22 years older, Rob is only six months younger than me. He is very successful as a conguero and percussionist in Baltimore. On this project, he always fit the mood of the moment and helped to make the music unique.”
“Scene From A Dream” begins with Fielder’s “Night In Turquoise/Dance Over The Edge”, a melodic but rhythmically tricky piece that is partly in 11/4 time with a 7/4 interlude with its main section in 4/4. Written to memorialize a fun night that he had spent in a dance club with Geri Allen, this is a mini-suite with many moving parts that will keep one guessing.
“Fugue 1978” doesn’t refer to classical music but to the state of consciousness between being awake and asleep. The atmosphere is set by Logan’s bowed bass before it becomes an energetic romp in 5/4 time that inspires inventive solos by Fielder and Allen.
Michael Logan brought in “Scene From A Dream” to the session. It was inspired by Stanley Cowell’s “Effi”, an original that Bobby Hutcherson recorded at the time. The composer’s unaccompanied bass improvisation (a little reminiscent of Jimmy Garrison) introduces the passionate jazz waltz, launching heated solos including some fiery “sheets of sound” from the leader.
“Les Mots Flottant (The Floating Words)” is named after the title of French writer Anais Nin’s diary which Dale was reading at the time. “Each morning she would clear her mind by taking her morning walks along the Seine River. I tried to capture the mood of her walks in this piece.” The excitement of starting a new day with endless possibilities can be heard in Fielder’s exuberant solo.
During this time as roommates, Dale Fielder and Geri Allen enjoyed playing duets. Allen’s “The Rain” a melancholy ballad, is a bit unusual because Allen spontaneously decided to sing wordlessly on the ensembles, one of the very few times in her career that she took a vocal. The date ends with Gregory Bufford’s “In My Youth” an energetic and exciting samba which features a prominent role for White on congas.
Despite the high quality of the music, these six selections went unreleased until now. The reason is simple; the project ran out of money. “During the past 35 years, it was always in the back of my mind but I was more focused on my current projects.”
Since “Scene From A Dream” is the length of an LP, Dale Fielder decided to add two complementary songs to the CD. After permanently moving to Los Angeles in 1988, he worked with drummer Chuck McPherson’s Modern Jazz Disciples every Friday and Saturday night at the Embassy Suites in San Diego during 1989-91. “Leopard In The Night” is the best song of the six that the quartet (which also includes pianist Dave Robbins and bassist David Marr) recorded as a demo on Apr. 27, 1991. A relatively straight-ahead piece, it features Fielder playing effortlessly over the complex chord changes. “Thunderbirds” which was part of the 2001 album The Hipster, gives listeners an opportunity to hear the mature Fielder performing in a quintet with pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Trevor Ware, drummer Thomas White and percussionist Rob White.
In more recent times, Dale Fielder has turned his focus to the baritone sax which he originally played in high school. “In 2002 I started playing the baritone again and, the more I got into the horn, the more I discovered that I could develop my own voice on the instrument.” Fielder is frequently heard in the Los Angeles area leading his quartet with pianist Jane Getz, bassist Bill Markus and drummer Thomas White, a group that has now been together for 23 years.
Looking back to “Scene From A Dream”, Dale Fielder says, “Geri passing away this past June shook us up and we thought that it was very important to finally get the recording out to add to her legacy. It is a tribute to Geri and the music that we played together long ago.”
-Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author of 11 books including The Jazz Singers, Bebop, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76