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October 2004

Miri Ben-Ari
The Temple of Beautiful
Half Note Records

When The Temple of Beautiful: Live at the Blue Note was recorded in 2000, Miri Ben-Ari looked like she might eventually become a jazz star. She'd ditched her previous classical repertoire (but not the chops she got from studying with Isaac Stern and Yeh-udi Menuhin), studied with Betty Carter
and made one previous album as a leader, Sahara. By now, though, she's given up jazz and turned to hip-hop, dropping fiddle science on productions for Wyclef Jean, Twista and Kanye West and readying her own album as "The Hip-Hop Violinist" for release later this year. How does that happen?

Well, on The Temple of Beautiful, Ben-Ari tends to push the tempo of whatever she's playing, thickening the texture with cascades of notes or hair-raising double-stops and showing a technical command most classical violinists would envy. Pianist David Kikoski, bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Steve Hass are all willing to follow her, with Kikoski contributing some particularly exciting solos. The best tracks here lay down a hard, fast groove, like the quartet's romp through Sonny Rollins' "Pent Up House" or Ben-Ari's own "Mother Shipton." Ben-Ari only shows weakness when she attempts profundity; at a trotting tempo, "The Temple of Beautiful" sounds more pleasant than beautiful as such, while the intended message of unity on her "Brotherhood" is ill-served by a similarly lightweight melody.

So there are clues on this album as to why Ben-Ari might want to play hip-hop for a living. In any case, all the available evidence (especially her collaborations with Kanye West) indicates that she excels in her new genre, and her continued success allows me to hold onto hope that my dream concert of Beethoven's violin concerto, "Giant Steps" and "Get Ur Freak On" will eventually happen.

Originally published in October 2004
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