Roni Ben-Hur: Keepin’ It Open

If Roni Ben-Hur views Manhattan as that “isle of joy,” as Lorenz Hart famously put it, chalk it up to a series of life-altering encounters with Walter Booker Jr., Barry Harris and several other jazz greats beginning in the mid-’80s. That’s when the Israeli-born guitarist moved to New York City and came under the influence of numerous jazz elders who helped foster the impressive artistry on display throughout Keepin’ It Open.

Dedicated to Booker, Ben-Hur’s fifth recording as a leader is the product of a cozy studio session that often reveals what the guitarist owes to the musicians who mentored (or inspired) him without sounding overly derivative. Playing an archtop guitar and projecting a full, round tone, he favors buoyant, brush-stroked swing (“Can’t We Be Friends”), harmonically tart compositions by Thelonious Monk (“Think of One”) and Elmo Hope (“One Second Please”) and, in a spirited tribute to the aforementioned jazz piano lion, some bracing bop (“My Man, Harris”). Add in a few colorful excursions, whether inspired by a traditional Sephardic ballad (“Eshkolit”) or, a Brazilian groove (“Recado Bossa Nova”), and you have an album that consistently capitalizes on the lessons Ben-Hur has mastered over the past 20 years.

What’s more, he’s still keeping great company. The lineup here-pianist Ronnie Matthews, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, bassist Santi Debriano, percussionist Steve Kroon and the remarkably resourceful drummer Lewis Nash-plays more than just a supporting role in making this session a delight from start to finish.