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Roni Ben-Hur: Signature

Roni Ben-Hur came to America from Israel in 1985, and his playing is imbued with a yearning quality that hints at his heritage. His fourth leader disc follows 2001’s bebop-oriented Anna’s Dance and sees the guitarist heading into more impressionistic territory while still not sacrificing swing or melody.

Ben-Hur’s inquisitive lines seem to seek something either unknown or lost and reward most when the investigations surround his own compositions, like the uptempo reinvention of “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” he calls “Mama Bee” and the languid, pensive eight minutes of eulogistic brooding dubbed “Eretz.” On piano, John Hicks complements the guitarist’s melancholy with a sense of levity without undermining the general mood. Good thing, too, because this isn’t jovial music but a set of contemplative tunes where taking things at cautious tempos is the general rule.

A Latin bent invites percussionist Steve Kroon’s atmospheric presence into the fold for a third of the album and breaks the swinging pulse, allowing for the seductive, stop-start dance “Choro No. 1,” one of two tunes by Heitor Villa-Lobos on the disc and one made memorable thanks to the textures of Rufus Reid’s brief spat of bowed bass.

Originally Published