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"Gentle Ben"

(nota records)

featuring Daniele D'Agaro-U.T. Ghandi-Mark Helias

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Gentle Ben (nota 2.96) This is Mark's Italian trio with Daniele D'Agaro on clarinet & tenor sax, U.T. Gandhi on drums and Mark on contrabass. Although I am unfamiliar with either of the two Italian musicians on this most impressive trio date, it turns out that the clarinetist Daniele has a trio cd on Nimbus with Tristan Honsinger, as well as a quintet cd co-led with Benny Bailey also on nota. Both Mark and Daniele split the tunes evenly as composers, with two standards, two tunes by Sean Bergin and a traditional Portuguese song. Daniele's "Fried Eggs" opens and flies from the first note, the clarinet fronted trio burning profusely, super tight and pushing - both the clarinet and bass taking great solos. I recognize Mark's superb tune "Gentle Ben" from an earlier cd of his and it has a sly melody line that is hard to forget - Daniele's tenor sax has that old-time bluesy swagger that reminds me of Bennie Wallace - a pure delight. The tenor trio digs in deep and really pushes hard on "Chip Chip Chippie" - I am consistently impressed by the duo sections when the bass and drums follow each other through tight hair-pin turns and match wits perfectly. Mark's bowed bass, the droning clarinet and minimal percussion creates mystery and suspense on "The End of the Middle". The bass and drums only are featured on "Bill Jones" and once more do a fine job of creating a spooky vibe with just provocative sounds. The traditional Portuguese piece is called "Va Im Tembora, O Papao" and it is an elegant feature for the warm wooden-toned clarinet. Sean Bergin's "Plastic Bag" also has a memorable finger-snapping melody that makes me wanna get up and dance around. The thing that impresses me the most about this trio is how well-balanced it is - each member contributes the same amount of energy, ideas, playing and support - so it all works. Even the two standards "It's the Talk of the Town" and Monk's "Four in One" are played with immense care and humor. The difficult Monk tune is played on clarinet and as thorny as it is, it swings just right. Time to search out those other cds by these wonderful players.