Bruce Cale Quartet – On Fire – Tall Poppies

by | Aug 14, 2009 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Bruce Cale Quartet – On Fire – Tall Poppies TP203, 75:46 **** [Distr. by Albany]:

(Bruce Cale – bass; Dale Barlow – tenor and soprano saxophone; Roger Frampton – piano; Phil Treloar – drums)

This disc, a companion live recording to the earlier released Bruce Cale Quartet Live: Adelaide Festival 1980, features this important band at the height of its powers. Unquestionably, the star here is Dale Barlow, who solos on each of the seven numbers and has a distinct voice on both soprano and tenor saxophone. Most likely, you’ve never heard of Dale Barlow unless you live Down Under or have access to obscure Aussie labels like Tall Poppies or Spiral Scratch. A former member of Art Blakey’s great Jazz Messengers (with whom he appeared on two recordings), which during its long existence featured such standout saxophonists as Benny Golson, Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter, Branford Marsalis, and Bobby Watson, Barlow has also recorded with Cedar Walton and has several discs out as leader. It might seem like a stretch to include him among such luminaries as the above mentioned players, but careful listening to him on this fine disc confirms that judgment.  Equally at home on tenor and soprano saxophone (he also plays flute on one number) Barlow comes out of the Coltrane school, but with his own distinct approach. Seamus Blake and Billy Pierce might be comparable modern analogs. The other players also excel, with pianist/wind player Roger Frampton shining brightest. His frontline horn duets on “L.A. Trajectory” and “Bells” are a highpoint, and his piano stylings always provide apposite musical expressions.

Leader and bassist Bruce stands out more for the compositions (five of the seven are his) than for his playing, which is perfectly serviceable but not particularly distinctive. One problem may be that his bass is under-mic’d and tends to get lost in the mix; he does take several interesting solos in a Miroslav Vitous vein that show off his virtuosity.

The disc, clocking in at over an hour and fifteen minutes, is probably too long. Several numbers meander or feature perhaps too much blowing for blowing’s sake, especially “L.A. Trajectory” and “Bells,” which together represent more than 50% of the total time of the seven-track disc. That said, On Fire is a wonderful introduction to Australian jazz generally and to the specific playing of Dale Barlow and compatriots.

L.A. Trajectory
Listen to the Song of Life
Bells, Op. 33, No.3

– Jan P. Dennis

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