Release date: October 14, 2022
Label: Dot Time Records
Wondering is the new album co-led by guitarist Roni Ben-Hur and bassist Harvie S. 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.”
Release date: March 5, 2021
Label: Dot Time Records
The newest recording from renowned guitarist and composer Roni Ben-Hur, Stories, is due out March 5, 2021 via Dot Time Records. On his latest collaboration with some of the finest musicians on the international jazz circuit, the jazz guitar virtuoso shares a fascinating collection of Stories from his genre-busting 40-year multicultural musical journey. Joining Ben-Hur is the legendary George Cables on piano, esteemed trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, the steadfast rhythm section with bassist Harvie S and drummer Victor Lewis, and special guest vocalists Magos Herrera and Tamuz Nissim.
“Recording Stories has been a unique and very fulfilling experience, allowing me to incorporate songs I loved since my childhood, and ones that speak to social issues that are important to me, with the exquisite mastery of the artists in this album. Each person on this recording brought their stories to mine, adding beauty and depth that was beyond my imagination, making it a tale I wanted to listen to again, and again. I feel very blessed to be able to share this with the world,” shared Ben-Hur.
Ben Hur’s story began in Dimona, a small, provincial desert town in Israel, where he was born in 1962. In Stories, Ben-Hur, who moved to New York in 1985, constructs a timeless lyrical bridge linking his early childhood memories to the world of today.
“Ha’omnam”, with lyrics by the revered Hebrew-language poet, Leah Goldberg, is a story of hope in the midst of struggle written during the darkest days of the Holocaust. Roni’s sensitive strings accompany the powerfully soothing voice of acclaimed Israeli vocalist Tamuz Nissim. Translated from Hebrew, she sings: You shall walk in the field, alone, without being burnt by the fires on the roads that bristled from terror and blood. Nissim and Ben-Hur remind us that thousands of refugee families and children are experiencing their own holocaust today in war-torn regions around the world.
In “A Redoblar” (Let’s Roll), Victor Lewis’ defiant drum riff introduces a story of oppressed people rising and marching together for freedom and equality. Magos Herrera, called by the Latin Jazz Network “one of the greatest contemporary interpreters of song,” gives voice to the 1970’s protests against fascist regimes in Latin America. Towards the end of the song, Herrera passes the musical torch to Ingrid Jensen, hailed as one of the most gifted trumpeters of her generation. With triumphant flare, Jensen boldly blasts through conventional barriers to command attention to both the music and the message. Two powerful women leading with authority and reminding us of the urgent need for justice in America and around the world today.
While Roni’s empathic resonance with the struggles of the oppressed is undeniable, this album is essentially a love story for the music, the cultures and the people who have meant so much to him. “Ma’of”, a deceptively sprightly song of “taking flight” was written by Ben-Hur for his two daughters as he watched them beginning to take off on their own. Ben-Hur captures the mixed emotions of fathers everywhere as he sets the ensemble loose chasing the ineffable melody of youth on its unstoppable flight to independence.
“Something for Kenny” is a composition by Elmo Hope, a 1950’s/60’s mainstay jazz pianist and largely unheralded bebop innovator. Ben-Hur and the band show their love for Hope’s music by weaving an intricate trade-off of improvised solos through his bouncy melody.
“After the Morning” is a tribute to John Hicks, another great 20th century jazz pianist. This rendition of Hicks’ composition showcases the formidable talents of Jensen and bassist Harvie S.
Lost love is the theme of “But I Had to Say Goodbye”. Ben Hur’s soulful guitar, George Cable’s delicate piano, and a final anguished cry from Harvie S, fall like musical tears in this mournful ballad of ill-fated love.
The album begins and ends with two compositions that reflect the scope of Ben-Hur’s musical explorations. “La Serena” is a Sephardic folk song of unrequited love, sung in the ancient Jewish Ladino dialect by Magos Herrera. “Melodious Funk”, written by legend Cables is a classic homage to Theolonius Monk.
Roni Ben-Hur is a master in the world of straight-ahead jazz, but his unique style also reflects the Brazilian, Middle Eastern and African musical landscapes that are so much a part of his heritage. This album is a dazzling compilation of great Stories from that rich treasure chest that yearn to be heard again and again.
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"There is a feeling that it is a working group that has played this music for audiences and nailed everything on the first take, rather than a one-shot studio meeting." Review here.
"Populated by a crew that's as diverse as the times and comes complete with more chops that you can imagine, this is a thinking man's set aimed at opening the ears as well as the mind and heart." Read the review here.
WULF'S MUSIC + BLOG
"These are great stories from around the world, worth to be re-told may times. Outstanding!" Read this review here.
MAKING A SCENE!
This is a well-conceived album in terms of tempos, moods, and subject matter. It would be difficult to find a better ensemble to perform Ben-Hur’s compositions. Although most of it comes across in straight-ahead fashion, careful listening also reveals a mastery of cultures – the Brazilian, Middle Eastern and African musical landscapes that are so much a part of his heritage. This is one to return to often. Read review here.
"Genre-busting guitarist/composer Roni Ben-Hur collaborated with some of the finest contemporary jazz musicians in the world on his new album, Stories, which sees him linking his early childhood memories to the world of today." Read The Week in Jazz here.
"There’s something refreshingly unhurried about how the program of music unfolds on Stories, the latest collection of original compositions and creative arrangements of others’ tunes from Roni Ben-Hur." Read this review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Roni Ben-Hur works very well through a variety of musical styles and this release has him doing that in the company of an excellent group." Read this review here.
MICHAEL VAN GEE
JAZZ 'N' MORE
"The new CD by the Israeli guitarist Roni Ben-Hur has turned out to be a great success." Read the full review in the July 2021 issue of Jazz 'N' More Magazine.