By P. Christopher Dowd
Two recent releases from maestros Roni Ben-Hur and Bob Ward, each with their own style and approach, showcase the wide range of jazz guitar. Ben-Hur, the critically acclaimed worldly guitarist and Ward, the understated, veteran picker, are mapping out territory and mining tradition as players and composers with their respective discs.
Roni Ben-Hur continues to assert his place in the pantheon of guitar greats with Signature, the long-awaited follow-up to Anna's Dance. Ben-Hur leads a quintet of John Hicks (piano), Rufus Reid (bass), Leroy Williams (drums) and Steve Kroon (percussion) through a mix of original compositions and covers. Ben-Hur sets the tone with some expressive Wes Montgomery-style licks on the opener "Mama Bee . For the rest of Signature, Ben-Hur's warmness is infused with a global cornucopia of Northern African, Middle Eastern, Brazilian and gypsy flavors. In addition to Ben-Hur, Hicks dazzles on his own composition "Slowly But Surely , as well as on "Time On My Hands and the solo over Rufus Reid's walking bass on "Blues In The Night . The comfort and ease between the quintet is evident on the final track as Ben-Hur, Hicks and Williams propel Cole Porter's "So In Love with a fresh and bouncy interpretation.
Bob Ward, the new York jazz scene veteran, leads his New York Quintet through 11 quality original compositions on The Persuader. Ward's economical solos fit the tight sound of the quintet, allowing for trumpeter Tim Ouimette to open up, such as on "Three More Minutes , "Cat Paws and "The Search Within , with Ward and Ouimette trading off.
"The Leopardess , sporting its cool bop riff, is the disc's standout track and could be the quintet's signature piece with Bruce Williamson and Taro Okamoto on bass clarinet and drums respectively, reaching outside the groove. "Mr. Cool is an understated and quality arrangement featuring a bop solo by bassist Kelly Friesen. "Taro's Delight , "Nice and Juicy and "Pressure Point featuring Okamoto's progressive rhythms, all reinforce Ward's talented songwriting abilities. The title track is a great closer as Ouimette and Okamoto shine.
Tracks: 1 Mama Bee Ben-Hur 4:18; 2 Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2, Aria Villa-Lobos 9:27; 3 Blues in the Night Arlen 8:22; 4 Eretz Ben-Hur 8:01; 5 Slowly But Surely Hicks 6:32; 6 Choro No. 1 Villa-Lobos 6:33; 7 Time on My Hands Adamson, Gordon, Youmans 5:54; 8 Luiza Jobim 6:19; 9 So in Love Porter 6:36
Personnel: John Hicks: Piano; Steve Kroon: Percussion; Rufus Reid: Bass; Roni Ben-Hur: Guitar; Leroy Williams: Drums
Personnel: Bob Ward: guitar; Bruce Williamson: sax; Tim Ouimette: trumpet; Kelly Friesen: bass; Taro Okamoto: drums