Uniting their mutual love for both jazz and Brazilian music, two acclaimed stylists, the guitarist Roni Ben-Hur and the bassist Nilson Matta, have found common ground on Mojave, their first recorded collaboration. With expert support from the long celebrated drummer Victor Lewis and Brazilian percussionist Café, Ben-Hur and Matta have conjured up a project that celebrates the best of both worlds.Mojave, entrances with its Brazilian sensibilities as successfully as it swings.
Blending original tunes from all four players with compositions from such Brazilian masters as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Baden Powell and Pixinguinha - in addition to a samba-infused version of Burt Bacharach's classic, "The Look of Love." - Ben-Hur and Matta honor the song craft that makes Brazilian music so beloved, while also acknowledging its pervasive influence. While the Brazilian born Matta comes to the music of his country with the natural ease one might expect, Ben-Hur, born in Israel, impresses with the idiomatic comfort he's acquired. "Roni loves the music," says Matta of his musical partner, "and although he's not Brazilian, he plays the music so well. But this project was never intended to be pure Brazilian; it's a mixture of bebop and samba: a perfect combination. With an American musician with Israeli roots, one native-born American, and two Brazilian players, it became more international in flavor."
Mojave provides plenty of room for the co-leaders to exhibit their impressive instrumental skills. Ben-Hur and Matta are virtuosos thoroughly entrenched in the bebop idiom, yet both men are just as obviously in thrall to the rhythms and sophisticated melodic and harmonic shapes of classic Brazilian music. The team cover a wide spectrum, from three songs by Pixinguinha, the iconic master of the pre-Bossa Nova genre, choro, whose influence was strongest in the 1920s and 30's, to emblematic songs by guitarist and composer Baden Powell (represented here by his own "Samba do Veloso" as well as Matta's original tribute, "Baden") and Antonio Carlos Jobim, the most celebrated Brazilian popular composer of the 20th century. That each of the players contributes original material as well strengthens the collaborative bond that permeates the album as a whole.
If the overall tone of the album is touched by a glowing lyrical quality that radiates from Ben-Hur and Matta's deep connection to the music and each other as players, their prodigious chops are never given short shrift. Hear them romp through "Samba do Veloso," "Canal Street" and the title track, and then caress the ballads, "Carinhoso," "Eretz" and the gorgeous guitar-bass duet, "Rosa" with equal agility and sensitivity.
The co-leaders began their collaboration in 2009 playing duets in the performance lounge at New Jersey's Englewood Hospital, home to the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund, which provides care for jazz and blues musicians in need. Extensive touring followed and plans were soon made for recording. It was only fitting when Matta and Ben-Hur decided to make Mojave the third CD in Motema's Jazz Therapy Series (twenty percent of sales will be allocated to the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund of the Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, "The desire to make an album together was natural," Ben-Hur says, "It was a great opportunity to play music that I had loved all my life with someone I consider an icon of the music. " The addition of Lewis and Café, long admired by Ben-Hur and Matta, brought a cherished project to fruition.
Emigrating to the United States in 1985, Roni Ben-Hur began studies at the Jazz Cultural Theater under the legendary pianist Barry Harris. There the guitarist played with such bop stalwarts as bassist Walter Booker, drummer Leroy Williams and the "musician's musician," pianist Chris Anderson. Working in Harris's band from 1991 to 2007, Ben-Hur also helmed six acclaimed albums under his own leadership, including the 2009 release Fortuna, as well as a highly praised duet recording with fellow guitarist Gene Bertoncini, Smile. In addition, Ben-Hur has established himself as a respected educator. The founder and director of the jazz program at New York's Kaufman Center, he has also taught at workshops and camps at Stanford University, the National Guitar Workshop, and, with bassist Santi Debriano, at the village of Saint Cezaire in France's Cote d'Azure, With Nilson Matta, Ben-Hur co-led the "Samba Meets Jazz Camp" in Bar Harbor, Maine. His instructional book and CD, Talk Jazz Guitar and his new DVD, Chordability are popular and respected jazz education tools, both available at www.Ronibenhur.com.
Although an Israeli guitarist might not be automatically associated with the sounds of Brazil, for Ben-Hur the links were more obvious. "I hear such a lot in common rhythmically among it all," he says, referring to the associations he hears between the North African, Turkish, Spanish and local tribal musics that he grew up listening to and the Brazilian strains he was later drawn to, "I'm always amazed by the connections."
Born in São Paulo, Brazil, bassist Nilson Matta drank in the sounds of such master jazz bassists as Paul Chambers, Scott LaFaro, and Charles Mingus from an early age. Before relocating to New York in 1985, Matta had already worked with such Brazilian luminaries as João Gilberto, Luis Bonfa, Hermeto Pascoal, and João Bosco, to name just a choice few. Upon hitting New York City, Matta established himself as an in demand bassist, playing with Kenny Baron, Joe Henderson, Don Pullen, Mark Murphy, Nancy Wilson and Yo-Yo Ma among many others. (Matta has participated on four Grammy Award -winning recordings including Henderson's Big Band and Ma's Obrigado Brazil.) Matta is also a founder of the popular Trio de Paz ensemble with Romero Lubambo and Duduka da Fonseca, with whom he has released four albums. His own albums as a leader include Walking With My Bass and Brazilian Voyage: Copacabana. Like Ben-Hur, Matta is highly involved in jazz education, teaching at the "Samba Meets Jazz Camp" in Bar Harbor, Maine, and elsewhere.
Matta is very honored and proud to have recorded this album with Ben-Hur, Victor Lewis and Café, and to be part of the Motema family. "We finished the album in two days," he says, "We all got along so well. " The camaraderie Matta speaks of is a presence that can be felt throughout Mojave, an exceptional recording that prizes unity and creativity equally.