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 Friday, 28 November 2014
From Israel to New York to St. Paul: Roni Ben-Hur at the JCC PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Sunday, 13 February 2011

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Roni Ben-HurİAndrea Canter

Israeli imports like Anat Cohen (clarinet), Avishai Cohen (bass) and Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Omer Avital (bass), Omer Klein (piano), Anat Fort (piano), Tamir Hendelman, Gilad Hekselman (guitar), Eli Degibri (saxophone) are helping to transform the “American” art form of jazz as they settle into the U.S., infusing their native traditions with postbop modernism. Although the high profiles of the three Cohens in particular (Anat and trumpeter Avishai are siblings) maybe suggest this is a new phenomenon, in truth the trek from Israel to New York began more than two decades ago. One of the first of these jazz pilgrims, now well-established as a performer, composer and educator, was guitarist Roni Ben-Hur. A student and colleague of the great pianist Barry Harris, Ben-Hur has built his reputation across a handful of recordings and international tours.  His appearance in St. Paul last night underscored the contribution of multi-culturalism to both jazz and to our local arts scene. 

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Steve WilliamsİAndrea Canter
The St. Paul Jewish Community Center is not generally on the jazz map, but perhaps it should. Once per year, the JCC turns its auditorium into a jazz hall to feature a visiting Israeli performer. Last spring, the JCC presented virtuoso flautist Mattan Klein. For 2011, the guest was the Roni Ben-Hur Quartet, featuring Ryan Cohan on piano, Santi Dibriano on bass, and Steve Williams on drums. Each of these musicians has outstanding credentials – Cohan has been burning up the Chicago jazz scene, releasing one of my favorite albums of 2010 (Another Look) on Motema; Dibriano has played with a long list of titans, including Cecil Taylor, Hank Jones, Freddie Hubbard and Larry Coryell; Williams backed the late Shirley Horn for 25 years, as well as appearing with Milt Jackson, Freddie Hubbard, Mulgrew Miller and more. 

There’s surely a lot to be said for Ben-Hur as both a performer and composer. His chops easily moved from ballad to bop to samba to fusion, and for one not brought up in the American tradition, he can swing like crazy (e.g., Harold Alden’s “Sleeping Bee”) and corral that blues feeling (e.g., Strayhorn’s “Intimacy of the Blues”). But he is most effective in the global realm of folkloric influences (“Recado Bossa Nova,” “Carinhoso,” “Eshkolit”), including his own “Eretz.” 

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Ryan CohanİAndrea Canter
But the most satisfying element of the nearly two hours of music was the empathetic interplay among the quartet--none of whom appear on Ben-Hur’s recent, highly touted release, Fortuna; only Dibriano has recorded with him to date. Cohan can comp with subtlety or dramatic fire, while his solos ranged from beautiful cascades (on “Like a Lover”) to break-neck gymnastics (“Recardo Bossa Nova”) and lightning streaks (“Guess Who”); Dibriano has a huge dynamic and emotional range, a seriously classical style emerging on balladic arco solos (“Like a Lover”) and a melodic undercurrent well serving a duet with Ben-Hur (“Carinhoso”); Steve Williams absorbed plenty backing Shirley Horn, showing a multitude of voices, particularly engaging in dialogue with Dibriano on “Intimacy of the Blues,” across all percussive tactics on “Eretz” and rattling cages on “Guess Who.” Without piano, the remaining trio provided a stunning interlude on the gorgeous arrangement of the traditional “Eshlolit,” while paring down “Carinhoso” to a bass/guitar duet suggests a future recording project. This quartet plays with the fire and spice of the best, from the opening high energy of Ben-Hur’s “Fortuna” to the ferocious swing of “A Sleeping Bee” to the touches of fusion and Latin of his closing “Guess Who.” 

Hats off to the JCC for the foresight to bring such creative and joyous jazz to a community space.



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