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Geoff Himes, The Jeffersonian
June 2000

The Onus, which unveils its second album in Fells Point this Friday, is an unusual jazz quintet in that it features neither saxophones nor trumpets. Instead, clarinetist-leader Darryl Harper and guitarist Jeff Ray are backed by the rhythm section of pianist Kyle Koehler, bassist Matthew Parrish, and drummer Butch Reed.

This is the same instrumentation as the famous quintet led by Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian, but the Onus is more attuned to the post-bop modal sound of Miles Davis and Bill Evans.

This territory has been mined many times, but the unusual pairing of clarinet and guitar gives the Onus a fresh approach. The mellow sound of Harper’s woodwind and Ray’s hollow-body guitar shift the emphasis from brassy or honking horn solos to more impressionistic harmonies.

Fortunately, Harper’s writing is so richly melodic and so refreshingly inventive that it provides rich raw materials for such harmonic development.

The Onus’ new album, “Reoccurring Dream” (Hipnotic), is an impressive step forward from the quintet’s 1997 debut release, “The Onus.” Harper explores the lower range of his clarinet with sensual results; Ray pushes the rhythm along more forcefully, and new pianist Koehler proves more assertive and percussive than his predecessor.

The results mark the Onus as one of the most interesting jazz combos in the mid-Atlantic region.

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