Release date: October 14, 2022
Label: Dot Time Records
Wondering is the new album co-led by bassist Harvie S and guitarist Roni Ben-Hur. Though it may seem to be shrouded in mystery, there’s a clear explanation for the dovetailing dynamic and palpable chemistry between the two consummate musicians. “We listen intently and we play with a lot of generosity toward each other,” shares the noted six-stringer. Believe it or not, it’s as simple—and sophisticated—as that.
In documenting their work in a trio with drummer Tim Horner on 2018’s Introspection, Roni and Harvie formally cemented their longtime partnership and set themselves on a continuing course. Fruitful bandstand encounters with drummer Sylvia Cuenca made her the ideal candidate to take the throne for a follow-up album, so they aimed to turn that thought into a reality. A trial session in Harvie’s apartment helped prime and ready the band for the real thing there. But unforeseeable obstacles stalled progress: Cuenca temporarily relocated to the West Coast, creating a vast geographic gap; and the pandemic put a halt to any and all plans, musical or otherwise. Undeterred, Harvie and Roni kept preparing. So when a brief window finally emerged, they seized the opportunity. With Sylvia back in New York for a spell, negative COVID test results in hand, masks and spacing precautions in place, and mics at the ready, the moment finally arrived. Recording live, leaving no room for error or editing, the trio knocked number after number out of the park. And Harvie, of course, captured it all with fidelity to natural sound.
“Boplicity,” the most well-known piece in the mix, serves as the perfect opener. Showcasing the hand-in-glove arranging style that typifies how the co-leaders work, it leaves no doubt as to their synergistic sensibilities. “That displays both of our ideas,” Harvie notes. “Roni would come up with some parts and I would develop different things.” That collaborative honing, which took place over a decent stretch of time, is evident in every outcome on Wondering. Continuing on, these three begin to focus on less familiar fare. First in that category is “For Duke P.,” an under-the-radar Bobby Hutcherson gem that caught Harvie’s ear: “It’s a brilliant tune and nobody plays it! It has some odd phrases and very hip changes with lots of room to move around in.” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s infrequently covered “Ligia”—one of Roni’s picks—follows. “I discovered ‘Ligia’ from a recording of João Gilberto,” he recalls. “It’s a charming piece, a beautiful love song, and we were able to perform it with such a nice bossa nova feel.”
Moving right along, the trio proceeds to make waves with more fresh finds. Raul de Souza’s “A Vontade Mesmo,” set ablaze with fleet-fingered lines, offers a taste of hot Samba-jazz. Oscar Pettiford’s “The Gentle Art of Love” puts Harvie out front as balladist, soloist and cadenza craftsman. That co-leader’s “Ray”—for Ray Brown—swings with style in honoring its subject. And Herbie Nichols’ “Some Wandering Bushmen,” swaying in 5/4, gives Sylvia her due. By the time the album reaches its final stretch, expecting unexpected repertoire choices and bearing aural witness to cooperative flair have become the norm. That last run includes “The Forks,” a rich-hued Kenny Wheeler composition providing a welcome taste of Harvie’s arco work; Roni’s “What Was,” presenting with a buoyant gait, amiable melody and appealing exchanges; and Frank Wess’ “Ménage à Bleu,” a slow blues in three that’s a model for cultivated cool.
Each of those performances deals in something unique, yet they’re all of a piece in demonstrating and defining artistic kinship. And that’s only a small part of why this entire production is so extraordinary. “You can certainly extrapolate meaning from this album’s title,” Roni explains. “It’s about the marvel of how this music came together, with Sylvia coming in, the COVID safety measures and recording in 2020 before there were vaccines, doing this live in Harvie’s apartment with no opportunity to punch in or correct anything. There was a lot to contend with, but we couldn’t stop ourselves from taking the risk and making this. So I think that’s the wonder of Wondering.”
"Their new co-led album is Wondering (Dot Time), and the result is tender, seductive and swinging." Read the review here.
THE BIG TAKEOVER
"Beautifully realized, while maintaining the sense of good pals hanging out and swapping tunes, Wondering is such an appealing, fun spin it makes you want to call up your own musician buddies to come over and have a jam." Read the review here.