Roni Ben-Hur

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A bop-oriented guitarist, Roni Ben-Hur emigrated from Israel in 1985.  Since that time he has hooked up with pianist Barry Harris (whose trio appears on his 1994 TCB CD Backyard), often utilized pianist Chris Anderson in his quartet, and married singer Amy London, with whom he recorded Two for the Road for the Fivecat label.

In addition, Ben-Hur worked with Bill Doggett, George Kelly, Gene Bertoncini and Ralph Lalama. Ben-Hur, who has a swinging and appealing guitar style, has also had an active career as a jazz educator.

Roni Ben-Hur is clearly influenced by his mentor, Barry Harris, and his biggest influence, Kenny Burrell.  Slowly but surely, he’s breaking away from their bop-oriented persuasion to develop his own charming single-line and minimal chord melodic strategy.

He’s also formulating a more open-ended approach that includes his pronounced Jewish/Sephardic/Tunisian heritage and Spanish/Moorish elements. This creates separate and equal segments that speak to all of these strains that have influenced modern jazz at one time or another. With substantial help from bassist Rufus Reid, drummer Lewis Nash, and percussionist Steve Kroon, Ben-Hur has a band that literally can do no wrong, totally professional as can be. Pianist Ronnie Mathews is also in on the proceedings and plays his heart out, albeit six months before he passed away from pancreatic cancer, and a mere month shy of his 73rd birthday.

Album “Fortuna” not only represents the good will Ben-Hur has experienced through his career, but also is the first name of  his mother, and that sentiment flows throughout the recording. One of only two originals from the pen of  Ben-Hur is the title track, mixing and matching 6/8 time with Latin music amalgamated with bop and recognizable snippets of several familiar songs. “Guess Who” is the other new composition, a simple samba jazz-based theme where the single-line string theory comes shining through.

An outstanding read of  Billy Strayhorn’s “The Intimacy of the Blues” is covered quite well, a kick to listen to for its insistent melody, while “A Sleepin’ Bee” is much more upbeat than other versions, with an atypical arrangement activated by the tasty and enlivened Mathews. Perhaps the most arresting selection is the classic Isaac Albéniz romantic theme “Granada,” a dramatic and regal piano piece turned into a heightened, serene, introspective ensemble objet d’art. “Modinha” leads the melody written by Vinícius de Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim into subterranean caverns, with Reid alongside Nash shining the flashlights and Mathews sitting out. Then there are standard ballads like “I Got Lost in His Arms,” where Ben-Hur brings out the strummed-chord brigade, and the ultimately tender “You Are There,” again sans Mathews and utterly beautiful, while the straight Latin take of “Were Thine That Special Face” is a thinned-out rhumba, allowing the players to ignore the rhythms and play expanded tonic lines. The musicianship on this date is close to flawless, especially from the rhythm section, an ultimately brilliant combination that together is much larger than the sum. They inspire Ben-Hur to do his very best on this recording that marks a pinnacle moment in his laudable career as a jazz guitarist.  ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi

Album: ”Fortuna” by Roni Ben Hur

Price: $ 9.99
Genres: Jazz, Music, World, Vocal, Contemporary Jazz, Standards
Released: October 13, 2009 ℗ 2009 Motema Music, LLC

To buy CD/listen to a samples click here (iTunes)

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