This is a terrific release for several reasons. For one thing, everyone involved in the CD's creation and promotion donated their services, which funnels all proceeds directly to the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund of the Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, New Jersey. According to Jana Herzen, president of Motema Music, Smile:Jazz Therapy Volume 1 is the first of a series that will benefit this and other Jazz Foundation of America projects. As a result, a worthy cause matches the music's high quality.
Smile can legitimately claim to justify its therapeutic subtitle: as relaxed and amiable as a conversation between two old friends (which it actually is), each of the ten tracks is soothing and full of light. It's a limited format, consists of Gene Bertoncini on acoustic and Roni Ben-Hur on electric guitar, but variations in material and arrangements keep things interesting, moreover, given their similar lyrical sensibilities, they never get in each other's way.
This program includes a fresh take on singer Roberta Flack's 70s hit, "Killing Me Softly," underscoring how pretty this song still is. A sensuous "I Concentrate on You" benefits from Bertoncini's signature re-harmonization, while the title track was such fun that one of the players expels a delighted breath at the end. Bassist Earl May was originally slated to perform on this release but died unexpectedly in January, 2008; the inclusion of Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Brown's "That's Earl, Brother" is a tribute to all the musicians' sunny personalities.
There's still more humor in Bertoncini's tweaking of Toots Thieleman's "Bluesette" dubbed "Set Blue" and the sly Dizzy quotes that Ben-Hur embeds in "Sofia's Butterfly." Together they remove years of kitsch from "Besame Mucho," restoring its original gleam. Another peak is their meditation on the beautiful Harold Arlen tune, "Out of this World."
As a psychologist, I'd be happy to prescribe Smile:Jazz Therapy Volume 1 to anyone in need of comfort and joy. Comfort and joy...hmmm...whenever you read this, Christmas is sure to be coming...
To learn more about the Jazz Foundation, see the article Beauty and the Beasts: Wendy Oxenhorn vs Homelessness, Poverty, Illness, and Despair.
Visit Gene Bertoncini and Roni Ben-Hur on the web.
Personnel: Gene Bertoncini: acoustic guitar; Roni Ben-Hur: electric guitar.