As the title of the album and opening cut, Benign Strangers, suggests, a certain musical and human gentleness prevails. Davy Mooney, a talented guitarist and graduate of NOCCA and the University of New Orleans, co-leads this band with drummer and tabla player Ko Omura, probably a new name to New Orleans audiences, who composed the warm tune. On hand too is saxophonist John Ellis, a regular Mooney cohort who is heard on the guitarist’s fine 2017 release, Hope of Home, as was bassist Matt Clohesy. Rounding out the group is pianist Glenn Zaleski, a Sunnyside label mate.
Much of the album continues the soft dance of first meetings as heard on Mooney’s “Dim,” which with its slow tempo suggests a tentative mood yet includes bright notes of interest and intrigue emanating from the guitar and piano.
More aggressive is Mooney’s “The Heights,” on which the listener gets to experience the strength of Omura’s pop and splash drumming. The always compatible Mooney and Ellis seem to go on a spree on this cut, letting loose on some more exploratory statements. Everyone’s in step as this highlight closes. The two are also featured together on the final cut, Omura’s “29th Road,” which returns to the quietude of many of the previous cuts.
Rather than driving rhythms, wild guitar licks and hard blowing, the power of Benign Strangers comes from within the musicians, their creative sensibilities and artistic display.