Davy Mooney & Ko Omura - Benign Strangers

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018

Personnel – Davy Mooney: guitar; John Ellis: saxophones and clarinets; Glenn Zaleski: piano, Matt Clohesy: bass; Ko Omura: drums.


American guitarist Davy Mooney and Tokyo-born drummer Ko Omura first met in 2012 in Japan, acknowledging right away a strong musical chemistry. They gigged in the subsequent couple of years and recently have decided to release their first album together on the Sunnyside Records. Contributing five compositions each, the two artists are in the command of a flexible quintet of rising-stars, including John Ellis on saxophones and clarinets, Glenn Zaleski on piano, and Matt Clohesy on bass.

The title Benign Strangers refers to the fact that Omura, who returned to Tokyo after living in the US and Australia, only met the other members of the group last January in New York, right before the album has been recorded.

The album’s opener is the title cut, whose theme's beautiful melodicism, mostly carried out in unison, sticks to the empathic rhythmic bond established between Clohesy and Omura. The latter, whose press rolls and transition fills spark in color, finds extra room to shine in a final vamp devised to absorb his free creativity.

The benign nature of Omura’s compositions is observable on titles such as “Subconscious Partner”, which stresses subtly nuanced rhythmic variations; “Unimagined Virtues”, a Zen-like meditation that advances with the supple propulsion of the tabla; “Hiraeth”, a polished hymn hooked by the quivering, marching steps of the snare drum; and the polyphonic closing piece “29th Road”, named for a street in suburban Mumbai.

Equally skilled and clever in the way he composes, Mooney proves me no wrong with numbers like “Shady Shores”, whose melodic statement flourishes with interesting rhythmic accents; the fluent “Polly Pulse”, which progresses through challenging undercurrents and syncopated rhythms; and “The Heights”, a carrier of modern post-bop energy further elevated by Ellis’ bass clarinet grooves and Coltranean saxophone lines. More reflective in their essences are “Dim”, a richly harmonized setting dipped in fluffy clouds, and “In This Balance of Time”, initially a medium-slow 5/4 effort that shifts without obstacles, spotlighting Clohesy in a jaunty pizzicato solo over a shrewd guitar comping and brushed drumming. The roles are inverted when the guitarist makes his personal statement right before Ellis wraps up the tune, materializing great rhythmic and melodic ideas into flawlessly descriptive enunciations.

Throughout this work, made of both unfettered collectivism and creative individualism, there’s a constant search for harmony and consensus in preference to clash and friction. Besides likable, the listenings are very accessible.

       Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 – In This Balance of Time ► 08 – Polly Pulse ► 09 - The Heights