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Daniele D'Agaro: Chicago Overtones

Chris May By

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With a distinguished track record of retro/repertory and free/new territories projects already behind him, Italian reedist Daniele D'Agaro brings the various strands of his music together here in a luminous, edge-of-your-seat masterpiece which will delight anyone with one ear for jazz history and another for its future. The album is simultaneously a reaffirmation of the past and a space probe into the beyond.

Chicago Overtones has traces and reference points as wide and deep as jazz itself—from Leadbelly, Duke Ellington, Ben Webster, and Don Byas to Big Jay McNeeley, Albert Ayler, Ken Vandermark, and David S. Ware—and D'Agaro is able to discover both the new in the old and the old in the new, to the benefit of each.

Literally and figuratively, the album answers the question Medeski, Martin & Wood posed on Combustication: "Whatever Happened To Gus?" Figuratively, Chicago Overtones embraces the entire jazz tradition, refracted through tenor saxophone and clarinet, from way back in the day, with its Leadbelly connection (he wrote the blues "Dick's Holler" in prison sometime in the early '20s) coming from before even Gus was born. And literally, well, drummer Robert Barry is an authentic personification of Gus. Born in Chicago in 1932, he toured with Gene Ammons in 1952, before returning to his hometown in 1954, where he joined Sun Ra. He played with Ra's Space Trio and was a founding member of the Arkestra. He then faded from view until Vandermark and others enticed him back onto the scene in the '90s. His drumming is pure uncut heaven: in the tradition, but out of it too. As D'Agaro notes: "He is one of the guys, he was there."

The rest of the band, all decades younger than Barry, are either based in Chicago—Bishop and Kessler are leading lights on the local scene—or, in D'Agaro's case, a frequent visitor. Hence the title Chicago Overtones.

D'Agaro, who plays almost as much clarinet as tenor saxophone here, contributes three originals—the rowdy hardbopper "Chicago Beer Coaster," which features a booting, R&B-dipped tenor solo that will be amongst the most exciting you've ever heard, the more abstract, suspended-time "Ultramarine #13," and the gorgeous, echoes-of-Strayhorn ballad "Long Armed Woman," with exquisite interplay between clarinet and trombone. The quartet as a whole gets credit for the collective improvisation "Dog Nose In The Kitchen." There are two Ellington tracks, "Sweet Zurzday" and "Melancholia" (the latter with heavy, heavy, period vibrato on the tenor), the traditional Italian folk tune "L'Ago Freschio," given an Ayler-meets-mariachi reading, Chicago pianist Curtis Clark's workin' and steamin' "Barry K," and Leadbelly's "Dick's Holler" (originally titled "Dicklicker's Holler"... and you can read all about that in the liner notes).

Like Archie Shepp and Charles Mingus, two other bandleaders who discovered the old in the new and the new in the old, D'Agaro gives us raw, visceral passion and folk history and, applied with a light touch this, scholarship. The tradition is refreshed and taken up some new byways: full of wonder and deep roots and new sounds and energies, it's a beautiful journey.


Track Listing: Chicago Beer Coaster; Ultramarine #13; Sweet Zurzday; L'Ago Freschio; Long Armed Woman; Dog Nose In The Kitchen; Dick's Holler; Barry K; Melancholia.

Personnel: Daniele D'Agaro, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Jeb Bishop, trombone; Kent Kessler, double bass; Robert Barry, drums.

Title: Chicago Overtones | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Hat Hut Records


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