Reoccurring Dream

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The fact that this Philadelphia-based quintet is led by a clarinetist, Darryl Harper, makes it stand out immediately. Usually a saxophonist will double on clarinet for a track or two, perhaps. But Harper plays the mellow-sounding horn exclusively, showcasing its unique ability to sound old-fashioned and modern in the same breath. Harper and the Onus, which also includes Jeff Ray on guitar, Kyle Koehler on piano, Matthew Parrish on bass, and Harry "Butch" Morris on drums, is devoted to pushing the jazz mainstream in a pointedly modern direction. Thus we hear three incisive Harper arrangements: a 3/4 version of Charles Mingus's "Nostalgia in Times Square," a subtly reharmonized and positively blistering "Night and Day," and an elegant solo piano feature for Koehler titled "Falling Leaves," based on "Autumn Leaves." The bulk of the program, however, is given over to band originals -- two by Harper ("Kiss Me Again," a ballad, and "Narcolepsy," a Coltrane-esque minor blues); two by Ray ("Reoccurring Dream," an angular blues in disguise, and "Letter to My Brother," an upbeat swing chart); one by Parrish ("Caliban's Nightmare," a free-leaning jam); and one by the band's manager, Tony Haywood ("I Wonder," a Tyner-esque modal blues). Ironically, Harper's retooled standards hold the most creative interest, although the album's multiple, contrasting takes on the blues form are a gradually unfolding revelation.

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