409

Gene Bertoncini / Roni Ben-Hur: Smile: Jazz Therapy Volume 1

J Hunter By

Sign in to view read count
Gene Bertoncini / Roni Ben-Hur: Smile: Jazz Therapy Volume 1 In November 2007, Roni Ben-Hur and his bassist Earl May approached Motema Records with a great idea: They would record a duo CD, pro bono, as a fundraiser for the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund, a trust created by Engelwood Hospital and Medical Center to fund health care for jazz musicians who can't afford it (i.e. just about every player not named Wynton Marsalis). May's sudden death the following January could have sent this worthy concept off the rails; instead, Gene Bertoncini stepped into the breach, and the results are absolutely brilliant.

Smile (dedicated to May, whose ever-present grin inspired Ben-Hur to include Charlie Chaplin's timeless ballad in this 10-song set) is a living definition of the word "simpatico." These two guitarists have played together on and off since the early '90s, but their interplay and mutual sense of musical space sounds like it comes from a years-long collaboration. In fact, the tunes themselves become secondary to experiencing the entrancing sound that comes from the multi-layered dialogue between Ben-Hur's hollow-body electric and Bertoncini's nylon-string acoustic.

Bertoncini leads off on the Charles Fox/Norman Gimble classic "Killing Me Softly," instantly achieving an intimacy that almost eclipses Roberta Flack's signature performance. When Ben-Hur joins in on the chorus, none of that intimacy is lost; instead, a conversation ensues between two people who witnessed the same thing. Although both speakers are passionate about what they experienced, the conversation stays hushed, as if they don't want anyone to hear about the singer who "sang as if he knew me/In all my dark despair..."

While the standards on Smile seem straightforward, Ben-Hur and Bertoncini add a few personal touches. The chorus of "Killing Me Softly" gets a little bit of a stagger, as if the protagonists are slightly stunned at their antagonist's insight, while Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You" has a sheen that comes from the Brazilian sun. Meanwhile, "Besame Mucho" is as rich and romantic as it's supposed to be, just as the title track has the stiff upper lip that it should, and Dizzy's own "That's Earl, Brother" gets down and swings even as it stays within the date's relatively sedate boundaries.

Both players bring originals to the party—Ben-Hur with "Anna's Dance" and "Sofia's Butterfly" (each tune named for one of Ben-Hur's daughters), Bertoncini with "You Are a Story" and "Set Blue" (a deconstruction of "Bluesette")—but none of them have any sense of ownership, or an attitude of "This is my song!" The spirit of simpatico remains strong, as does the air of cooperation and collaboration. It gets to the point where the only way to discern who's playing what is with a good set of headphones. Happily, that makes the experience all the more enjoyable.

Apart from being a beautiful set, Smile literally enriches an aspect of Dizzy Gillespie's legacy that many people may be unaware of. If that isn't a win-win situation, it will do until a better example comes along.

Visit Gene Bertoncini and Roni Ben-Hur on the web.


Track Listing: Killing Me Softly; I Concentrate on You;Smile; That's Earl, Brother; You Are a Story; Anna's Dance; Out of This World; Besame Mucho; Sofia's Butterfly; Set Blue.

Personnel: Gene Bertoncini: acoustic guitar; Roni Ben-Hur: electric guitar.

Title: Smile: Jazz Therapy Volume 1 | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Motema Music


Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Towards Language CD/LP/Track Review Towards Language
by John Eyles
Published: June 23, 2017
Read The Romeo and Juliet Project CD/LP/Track Review The Romeo and Juliet Project
by Jack Bowers
Published: June 23, 2017
Read Saluting Sgt. Pepper CD/LP/Track Review Saluting Sgt. Pepper
by Roger Farbey
Published: June 23, 2017
Read Crystal Machine CD/LP/Track Review Crystal Machine
by Glenn Astarita
Published: June 23, 2017
Read Saluting Sgt. Pepper CD/LP/Track Review Saluting Sgt. Pepper
by Karl Ackermann
Published: June 22, 2017
Read Thick as Thieves CD/LP/Track Review Thick as Thieves
by Jack Bowers
Published: June 22, 2017
Read "Uh Oh!" CD/LP/Track Review Uh Oh!
by Jack Bowers
Published: June 30, 2016
Read "The Beast" CD/LP/Track Review The Beast
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 20, 2016
Read "Song of the Free Will" CD/LP/Track Review Song of the Free Will
by Dave Wayne
Published: November 16, 2016
Read "Sunrain" CD/LP/Track Review Sunrain
by Geno Thackara
Published: November 25, 2016
Read "The Big Wig" CD/LP/Track Review The Big Wig
by Ian Patterson
Published: May 24, 2017
Read "PointCounterPoint" CD/LP/Track Review PointCounterPoint
by Glenn Astarita
Published: September 7, 2016

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.