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Roni Ben-Hur: Stories (Dot Time)

A review of the guitarist's latest collection, featuring Ingrid Jensen, George Cables, Harvie S, and Victor Lewis

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Roni Ben-Hur: Stories
The cover of Stories by Roni Ben-Hur

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. In keeping with the album’s theme, the varied tunes here point to the true-life tale of the guitarist’s long and impressive career, from his origins as the youngest of seven children from a small desert town in his native Israel to his 1985 arrival in New York City and his subsequent 35-plus years’ work as a front-rank performer and dedicated jazz educator. And, on another level, many of the solos here—by Ben-Hur, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, pianist George Cables, and bassist Harvie S—benefit from a distinctive storytelling quality. 

The leader points to his cultural heritage with three pieces, starting with opener “La Serena,” a haunting Sephardic folk song sung in the ancient Jewish Ladino dialect by Magos Herrera. Its melody is followed by the first of Ben-Hur’s many searching, fleet-fingered improvisations and typically brash, inventive solos by Jensen and Cables. “Ha’omnam,” sung by Tamuz Nissim and built on lyrics by Hebrew-language poet Leah Goldberg, thrives on a lilting theme, a rolling bossa groove and flickering guitar, and “A Redoblar,” also sung by Herrera, draws from Victor Lewis’ understated propulsion, a melodic six-string turn, and an extended romp by Jensen.

Ben-Hur contributes two originals: pretty ballad “But I Had to Say Goodbye,” a well-appointed quartet piece offering the guitarist and Cables much room to shine, and “Ma’of,” a tune with a sprinting melody penned for its writer’s two daughters. Muted trumpet limns John Hicks’ ballad “After the Morning.” And Cables’ closing “Melodious Funk” is a Monk-inspired gem with a descending head, quirky twists, and appropriately against-the-grain piano, trumpet, guitar, and bass solos. It makes the perfect nightcap for this set of uniformly engaging stories.

Learn more about Stories on Amazon!

Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. The debut CD from his band, Acme Jazz Garage, gained airplay on about 35 radio stations across the US.