2009-09-15 — On October 6, 2009, Motéma Music proudly releases Fortuna, the much-anticipated new recording from guitarist, composer, arranger, educator and author, Roni Ben-Hur. Fortuna follows up Ben-Hur’s critically-acclaimed recordings, Smile (Motema, 2008), which was recorded with fellow guitar great Gene Bertoncini, and Keepin’ It Open, his 2007 Motéma debut which greatly expanded Ben-Hur’s presence and acclaim in the international jazz circuit.
On Fortuna, Ben-Hur’s seventh recording as a leader, the guitarist once again teams up with three of his four band members from Keepin’ It Open: piano great Ronnie Mathews, the ever-tasteful percussionist Steve Kroon, and the impeccable Lewis Nash on drums. This release also finds Ben-Hur in the esteemed company of the great bassist Rufus Reid, a frequent collaborator, who comments, “It is always a pleasure to make music with Roni Ben-Hur, anytime, anywhere!” The four come together to join Roni in bringing out another fine chapter in his swinging and emotionally gripping book of jazz.
“a guitarist with a low flame burning in every note.” – Gary Giddins, The Village Voice
The chemistry of the group is pure love. “Rufus [Reid] is a close friend, and one who’s been a great, positive force in my life,” says the guitarist. “Lewis Nash and Steve Kroon have been playing together with Ron Carter for many years and they’re each other’s favorite,” says Roni. “So, it was a great gel between the two of them. Both Lewis and Steve have such a special sound and feel, and their imagination and creativity are endless. Every piece gets transformed.” The late Ronnie Mathews, whose long-standing and vital presence on the New York scene earned him an honored role in jazz piano history, also makes a powerful contribution to Fortuna, which sadly wound up being one of his last recordings. “Though he was battling cancer during the date, Ronnie was right on the money,” Ben-Hur marvels. “From the get-go, he got the material and added so much to it. He was very generous, very creative, and great to work with.” Fortuna will remain a poignant and beautiful endnote to Ronnie Mathew’s rich musical legacy, but the loss of a great friend and mentor is the one sad point for Ben-Hur in this otherwise joyous project.
The album opens with the uplifting and romantic title track, “Fortuna.” “The CD is named after the goddess of good fortune, who has a strong resonance with my life and the attitude of my music,” explains Ben-Hur. “Fortuna also happens to be my mother’s name,” he says wistfully. “I was visiting her years ago back in Israel when the tune came to me. It’s a reflection on all of the struggles she and my father went through, and how they always came up on their feet.” Fortuna, along with the ballads heard on the recording, Irving Berlin’s “I Got Lost In His Arms” and Johnny Mandel’s “You Are There,” reflect Ben-Hur’s deep emotionality and natural gift for internalizing the story of a song. His tone and feeling are simply sublime.
“…a deep musician. A storyteller, [Ben-Hur] works with a warm, glowing sound and has an alluring
way of combining engaging notes with supple rhythm.” – Zan Stewart, the Newark Star Ledger
Fortuna further confirms why Ben-Hur is widely respected by his peers and the press as one of the jazz elite. Guitarist Russell Malone comments: “Everything Roni does is beautiful. He has the magic touch.” Nat Hentoff of The Wall Street Journal praises Ben-Hur & Bertoncini’s 2008 duet release, Smile, as “a lyrically meditative dialogue.” With Fortuna, Ben-Hur expands his meditations from a dialogue to a five-part conversation with finesse, groove and good humor.
His signature sound subtly infuses jazz with melodies and rhythms from romantic cultures. On Fortuna he finesses two lovely songs from Antonio Carlos Jobim, “So Tinha de ser Com Voce” and “Modinha,” both drawn from a Brazilian jazz repertoire that Ben-Hur has explored in depth with his frequent duo partners, bassists Santi Debriano and Nilson Matta. “I read somewhere that Jobim’s dream was to compose like Villa-Lobos,” Roni recalls. “I think for ‘Modinha’ he was thinking not bossa nova, but chamber music. So I took out the beat – there’s no bossa nova feel at all.” It’s also one of the tracks on the disc with no piano. “I wanted the freedom to take it wherever I wanted, and to leave more space so the percussion and bass textures could come out.”
Ben-Hur’s reputation as one of the “keepers of the be-bop flame” stems from his close collaborations with master pianist Barry Harris and shows up on Fortuna in his feisty bebop original, “Guess Who?” Meanwhile, with his arrangements of Billy Strayhorn’s “The Intimacy of The Blues” and Harold Arlen’s classic, “A Sleepin’ Bee,” he leads his ensemble right to the heart of straight ahead jazz, delivering deeply swinging, blues-drenched music with joy and effortless expertise.
“A delight from start to finish” was the comment from Mike Joyce of Jazz Times regarding Ben-Hur’s 2007 release, Keepin’ it Open, and now with Fortuna, Ben-Hur and his musical cohorts have done it again.
• October 10: Turning Point Café, Piermont, NY- The Roni Ben-Hur Trio with Billy Hart and Santi Debriano
• October 19: CD Release event at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, NYC - with Mulgrew Miller, Santi Debriano, Lewis Nash and Steve Kroon
• October 22: The Four Corners Project at Rutgers University, NJ - featuring the Roni Ben-Hur/Santi Debriano World Quintet
• November 5: Nighttown, Clevelan, OH (tentative)
• November 6 & 7: The Blue Wisp, Cincinnati, OH