Guitarist Roni Ben-Hur has assembled an impressive cast for Keepin' It Open: trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, pianist Ronnie Mathews, bassist Santi Debriano, drummer Lewis Nash and percussionist Steve Kroona who's who of contemporary mainstream jazz exploring a beautifully varied selection of tunes.
The proceedings open with Ben-Hur in the time-honored guitar trio setting, offering a fleet yet relaxed reading of "Can't We Be Friends. Also included on this session are thoughtful treatments of familiar material like "Indian Summer and Thelonious Monk's "Think of One. On the latter, Mathews adds the flavor of Monk without resorting to imitation or parody. Adding to the session's variety are a Spanish-themed "Andaluza (an unfortunately overly respectful reading) and two nicely turned bossa novas with distinct, varied treatments. On "Like A Lover the leader's tone gains a bit of sting and Kroon enhances the rhythm discreetly. On "Recado Bossa Nova, Ben-Hur sets a festive mood that each of the players catches and enhances.
Pelt shines on the elegiac "Eshkolit, a traditional Sephardic melody. The leader's original "My Man, Harris (dedicated to mentor Barry Harris) features the quintet (sans Kroon), with each member acquitting himself honorably, especially Mathews and Pelt, who raise the temperature markedly. These proceedings are capped by a short, crisp Nash spot. Elsewhere, Pelt's pensive introduction sets the stage for the afterglow of "Indian Summer. Ben-Hur's "Back When has a reflective feel, with especially affecting ensemble voicings. Hear how Nash propels the band along, while remaining unobtrusive. Ben-Hur honors piano giant Elmo Hope with "One Second Please, all hands responding superbly to the boppish theme and Mathews skillfully negotiating Hope's very personal changes.
Sessions like Keepin' It Open keep the jazz spirit alive and well. No new ground is broken but, rather, a group of consummate professionals offer their variations on a well-chosen musical program, full of invention, great ideas and honest emotions.
Roni Ben-Hur: guitar; Santi Debriano: bass; Lewis Nash: drums; Ronnie Mathews: piano; Jeremy Pelt: trumpet; Steve Kroon: percussion.
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