Roni Ben-Hur / Gene Bertoncini

Jazz Therapy, Vol. 1: Smile

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Guitar players from two generations in jazz always seem to find common ground, no matter their styles or orientation. Old guard nylon-string acoustic master Gene Bertoncini meets electric guitarist Roni Ben-Hur in this series of duets without a rhythm section to play standards and four new compositions, all performed in the spirit of their mutual friend, veteran bassist Earl May, who passed away in 2007 prior to these sessions. Where the romantic, spare, classically derived strains of Bertoncini's sound is completely trustworthy beyond any in jazz history, Ben-Hur is a formidable younger lion who sounds like a second coming of Kenny Burrell. Their shared responsibilities have them trading lead melody lines, with Bertoncini more on the chordal side, while Ben-Hur prefers a linear approach, but that is not set in stone. Bertoncini's two waltz originals include the thoughtful "You Are a Story" and endearing "Set Blue," based on the changes of the immortal Toots Thielemans evergreen "Bluesette." The pair of contributions from Ben-Hur includes "Anna's Dance," a romance wafting on water wings song, while "Sofia's Butterfly" also soars and sings on spontaneous gusts of melody, sometimes using rare unison phrases. Usually the guitarists are separated by melodic and rhythmic stances, in light bossa nova moods during the venerable passionate standards "I Concentrate on You" and "Besame Mucho," lightly swinging on the down-up-down, serene and stoic take of "Out of This World," or introspective on a chamber version of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly." Charlie Chaplin's delicate "Smile" and the lithe, upbeat bop number "That's Earl, Brother" (originally dedicated to columnist Earl Wilson), are both performed with Earl May in mind, for his persona and his personality respectively. As much as this is a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing album from these two excellent guitarists, there's an additional reason to purchase it. Proceeds from its sale go to the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund at Englewood Hospital in Englewood, NJ, which provides medical care to jazz musicians, and houses the area in the main lobby dubbed the Earl May Corner, where live performances are held regularly.

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