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Nilson Matta & Roni Ben-Hur: Mojave

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It would seem, in theory, that Mojave, a set of Brazilian music, would have been created on an un-level playing field. Bassist Nilson Matta and percussionist Café are natives of Brazil who’ve spent many years working within the genre, while Israeli-born guitarist Roni Ben-Hur and American drummer Victor Lewis have had comparatively limited experience in samba- and bossa-nova-based rhythms. But if the players had any trouble finding common ground it’s never evident here.

Perhaps because both Matta and Ben-Hur have spent the past quarter-century based in New York, international fusions come easily, and there’s an ease and naturalness to their collaboration. Just about evenly divided between covers and original compositions, the chosen tunes aren’t subjected to challenging rearrangements; the players play it cool, Ben-Hur’s tone clear and his solos crisp and sweet, the accompaniment uniformly unfussy. Three of the covers are credited to Pixinguinha, a Rio-born composer of choro music who passed away in 1973 and was known for his injection of jazz elements into Brazilian forms. The first of those, “Lamentos,” swings breezily, leaving ample open space in which Ben-Hur and Matta alternately peel out well-structured solos, take stock with an airtight, repetitive pattern, and then do it all over again. Bacharach-David’s “The Look of Love” is a song that is impossible to harm, and the quartet plays it in a straightforward fashion. And, of course, there’s a Jobim number, serving as the title track and opening the program, establishing the nature of the recording with smart, sophisticated interplay.

Of the originals, Lewis’ “P.D. on Great Jones Street” and Ben-Hur’s “Canal Street” may elude more to Manhattan than Ipanema, but they nonetheless retain the overall smoothness that characterizes this highly likable meet-up of four versatile and capable musicians.

Originally Published