Year by year, Guitarist Roni Ben-Hur has been building an increasingly stellar reputation for himself since he first migrated from his native Israel to New York City, back in 1985. A passionate leader, player, composer-arranger, published author and respected educator, Roni now stands as one of the elite players in modern jazz. Keepin' it Open, his fifth release and his debut on the Motema imprint elevates his game yet another notch or two as he leads a company of fellow jazz greats - pianist Ronnie Matthews, drummer Lewis Nash, bassist Santi Debriano, percussionist Steve Kroon and new trumpet sensation Jeremy Pelt through a very personal and multicultural jazz adventure.
A virtuoso guitarist with impeccable swing, Ben-Hur acquits himself with equal parts fire and finesse on Keepin' it Open, a versatile collection that runs the stylistic gamut from the engaging standard "Can't We Be Friends" to the exotic, emotionally-charged treatment of the Sephardic folk melody "Eshkolit." There is a gorgeous rendition of Dori Cayimi's "Like a Lover," a dramatic arrangement of the hauntingly beautiful Spanish classical number "Andaluza," and Roni's connection to his mentor Barry Harris is honored on the swinging tribute track "My Man, Harris," which the guitarist and his stellar crew take at a breakneck pace. Other highlights include Roni's hip interpretation of Thelonious Monk's "Think Of One," his lush take on the Tommy Dorsey-Frank Sinatra chestnut "Indian Summer" and a rousing rendition of the challenging but eminently hip "One Second Please" by the great pianist-composer Elmo Hope. The band hits a relaxed stride on the guitarist's affecting mid tempo swinger "Back When" and they close out the collection in energetic fashion with the lively samba "Recado Bossa Nova."
Roni Ben-HurThroughout the CD, Ben-Hur's warm, clean tone, crisp articulation and forceful attack on his hollow body Gibson jazz box are firmly rooted in the tradition of jazz guitar masters Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and Grant Green, though he also credits tenor sax titan Sonny Rollins as being a towering influence on his authoritative approach to guitar.
For the album's title, Ben-Hur reached back to a memory from his tiny Israeli home-town, Dimona. "When I was trying to think of a name for this record, it came to my mind how the front door of our house was always open, and how my mother was so generous about inviting people in to stay with us. I realized it was her generosity that taught me to trust life so much that I could leave that town and wind up here in New York playing jazz with so many amazing people. Whenever we'd ask her if we should close the door, she would always say, 'Keep it open.' This kind of attitude is very much a part of my music. What I aim for is to always keep an open mind and spirit on the bandstand and at all times express my emotions through my music. "