Roni Ben-Hur: Fortuna (2009)
Beginning with the romantic title tune, the in-the-groove chemistry of the group is as evident as it is irresistible. Mathews' authoritative timing and masterful harmonies provide perfectly complementary anchoring to Ben-Hur's guitar. The guys are cooking throughout. "The Intimacy of the Blues," a lesser-known Billy Strayhorn gem, opens with a mini-crescendo from drums followed by a lengthy and close interplay between Mathews and Ben-Hur that sweeps up the listener. Mathews solos with just the tastiest bit of Reid's bass dropping in after a dash of Nash's brushes. Never too much or too little, it all sounds as if it couldn't possibly be played any other way or any better.
Another Ben-Hur tune, the bebop-ish "Guess Who?," is one of several tunes on the set that have more than a little Latin flavoring. He and Mathews again pair up for a lengthy, infectious duet. On Jobim's "So Tinha de ser Com Voce," there's more swaying rhythm, but with a striking difference that transforms the bossa into something closer to chamber music.
Amidst all of these splendors the group does Harold Arlen's "A Sleepin' Bee" with a multi-flavored opening passage by Ben-Hur. Before long the ensemble has joined in for some deeply swinging, straight-ahead jazz. Here and throughout the set the playing is as effortless sounding as it is joyful.
Track Listing: Fortuna; I Got Lost In His Arms; Guess Who; Modinha; The Intimacy of the Blues; Were Thine That Special Face; A Sleepin' Bee; Granada; You Are There; So Tinha De Ser Com Voce.
Personnel: Roni Ben-Hur: guitar; Ronnie Mathews: piano; Rufus Reid: bass; Lewis Nash: drums; Steve Kroon: percussion.
Record Label: Motema Music