Daniele D’Agaro / Massimo De Mattia / Giovanni Maier

November 21, 2016

Tea Time

Rudi Records RRJ 1030

Disorder at the Border

Plays Ornette

NotTwo MW 943-2

Like dealing with an experimental scientific formula, altering just one aspect of a musical formation can result in a completely different, if equally satisfying compound. So it is with these two CDs here. Both feature two of Northern Italy’s most accomplished players, multi-reedist Daniele D’Agaro and double bassist Giovanni Maier. Yet altering the third angle of the improvisational triangle creates a situation where the formulae barely resemble one another.

With Italian flutist Massimo De Mattia as the new ingredient Tea Time becomes a controlled chamber-Jazz recital, whose 12 short selections depend on in-the-moment tone blending in a frame of time suspension. As different as insulin is to amphetamine, Plays Ornette is a personalized recasting of six Ornette Coleman compositions, mostly written for his electric band(s). While the performances may be as voltaic as those envisioned by the American avatar, the realization is completely acoustic. Power sparks are supplied by Slovenian drummer Zlatko Kaučič plus the fact that D’Agaro adds alto and tenor saxophones, and bass clarinet work to the clarinet tones that characterize his work on the other CD.

Taking the group name from a venerable Coleman Hawkins recording, Disorder at the Border is also a sly reference to the two countries involved. Considering that these areas share a similar history, and pre-First World War were both part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, means that there’s more arrangement than disorder in these performances. Attacking the tunes with the sort of vigor the Austrian army should have shown in 1914, the three pile colors and textures onto Coleman’s basic structures. Consistent throughout are D’Agaro’s sharp reed bites and Kaučič’s rhythmic strokes. Meanwhile Maier, who has played with everyone from trombonist Sebi Tramontana to tenor saxophonist Daniele Cavallanti, varies his bass line according to the situation. His sleight-of-hand moves from harsh string-stropping to cubist-like resonating whorls and patterns elsewhere.

With the cumulative strength of a tank battalion rolling towards a fortress, the usual intersection of rugged saxophone honks, bump-and-grind percussion whacks and tremolo string pulsing perfectly defines Coleman’s speedier numbers, while the performance also dusts them with unique Italo-Slovenian colors. But the linked mind-set and cumulative interpretative sensitivity works just as well if the trio recreates a ballad such as “Faithful”. As D’Agaro emotionally outlines that wistful theme on clarinet, it’s dissected with equal seriousness by the bassist’s well-shaped note interpolations. Like a mediator bringing together two opposing sides in a dispute, Kaučič’s dynamic patterning pushes the sides into a consistent narrative. In contrast, the subsequent astringent “The Garden of Souls” is given added resonance from the tenor saxophonist’s high-pitched slurs and shakes, surmounting double bass string rubs and cymbal snaps. “Comme Il Faut” perfectly defines both the bluster and blues-base of Coleman’s background. D’Agaro’s a capella introduction manages to reference spirituals as well as spirituality. And its conclusion is a distinctive blues snort. The piece’s basic ambulatory shape is then satisfactorily embellished with Maier’s bass shuffles, culminating in a resonating thump, and a march beat from the drummer, martial enough to reference a military campaign.

Neither the combative tones nor deep down R&B-like note shattering usually propelled by saxophone and drum elsewhere on Plays Ornette have any place on Tea Time. In fact the tracks, all named for different varieties of the hot beverage, often last only as long as it would take to sip a well-brewed cup of tea. This forces the trio to make its points in the equivalent of bag steeping time. De Mattia, who has recorded with reedist Gianluigi Trovesi serendipitously enough in a trio with Maier and Kaučič; plus D’Agaro, who concentrates on clarinet here, allow the connective bottom to materialize from the bassist’s concentrated string efforts. Depending on the situation, the horn players’ tones can be as legit and flighty as if they were auditioning for the role of cherubs in a fanciful rustic pantomime. Elsewhere their astringent reed timbres are such that each could be channeling Eric Dolphy at his most atonal.

A track such as “Licorice” demonstrates that strategy. Hard-edged, the horn exposition becomes even more staccato due to the bassist’s sul ponticello downward rubs. Whether to challenge or mock Maier, D’Agaro begins his solos with glissandi that threaten to turns into “Rhapsody in Blue”, and is then confronted with pace-making col lengo pops from the bassist. In contrast “Rooibos” takes the opposite tack. Double-stopping bass string squeezes are succeeded by the three perambulating along parallel paths that are as verdant yet twisty as Slovenian roads. Climax is reached as the flutist pushes his timbres skywards while the others’ lines become lower-pitched and centrifugal.

The defining brews are served on “Ginger”, “Sage” and “Blackcurrant” which line up one after another like camels in a caravan. Constantly active, like that desert procession, the first two tunes demonstrate how a memorable interface can be revealed when horn ornamentation creates the equivalent of sparkling swing just as Maier 12-string-guitar-like strumming cements the rhythm. Coda or comic, the subsequent “Blackcurrant” is 41 seconds of laughing altissimo clarinet lines.

Intense or impish, D’Agaro and Maier confirm they can excel playing in many fashions. Associates on these CDs add their skills to make the sessions even more memorable.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Tea: Mint 2. Hip Rose 3. Mango 4. Sanddom 5. Rooibos 6. Cinnamon 7. Licorice 8. Ginger 9. Sage 10. Blackcurrant 11. Lemon 12. Pomegranate

Personnel: Tea: Daniele D’Agaro (clarinet); Massimo De Mattia (flutes) and Giovanni Maier (bass)

Track Listing: Plays: New York 2. Mob Job 3. Faithful 4. The Garden of Souls 5. Him & Her 6. Comme Il Faut

Personnel: Plays: Daniele D’Agaro (alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet); Giovanni Maier (bass) and Zlatko Kaučič (drums and percussion)