It is not often that music—even some of the finest on record, like a highly imaginative novel—evokes powerful visuals, but when it does the result can be utterly enchanting.
The magic of music is what makes Our Thing , this record by guitarist Roni Ben-Hur, bassist Santi Debriano and percussion colourist Duduka Da Fonseca truly special. In fact so masterful are the impressions of the music’s imagery that as it is played by these three fine musicians, if begins to develop like a constantly evolving mural that gushes in the never-ending flow of its wet paint: the notes that make up the lines, which make up each song. What is even more amazing is that the three painterly artists are at work, as if on the same mural, at the same time, with deft strokes of fingers and brushes, and as if each is in the zone of his own. No one owns the melody; each one takes it at a given time and makes it his own. Thus a story line is developed from each one’s singular perspective. The guitarist’s one is daring, almost as if he is risking his life for each note. The bassist brings the unique sense of gravitas, plucking and rumbling as if he were a sort of Father Time. And the percussionist, observing everything agape with the immensity of it all puts tones and textures with elementally beautiful strokes of his own. All of this enriches the music with an approach that is informed by a sublime sense of colour, shade and tone texture.
This is the other aspect of the music: the manner in which each musician infuses the beautiful melodies with gorgeous tapestries of harmony. To have an idea of the expertise of expressing each note, or series of notes in their resident colours requires great ingenuity. Each of the players has a surfeit of great technique, combined with sensitivity of expression and dynamic to bring gorgeous harmonies and colour to the music of Our Thing. The towering stutter of “Green Chimneys” is a classic opening. Ben-Hur comes in cascading with round, sparkling notes that resonate as they fly in the characteristic jagged lined that Thelonious Monk, the song’s creator had intended then to do so. Debriano plays in thick lines as if he were using a broad brush to underscore or highlight the quirkiness of the music’s narrative. And Duduka Da Fonseca creates the fine lines that race through the melody, with breathtaking gusts of rhythm, played with such command of the drums and their tonality that he raises the level of the music almost single-handedly.
Elsewhere the musicians swap roles. The bass-line may be taken over by Da Fonseca, who provides space for the mighty Santi Debriano to create moving harmonies as he bows his way through achingly beautiful passages, con arco. Even when plucking the guts of his bass, pizzicato, Debriano can be most expressive. His playing on “Fotografia” is sensational and could easily be described as the highlight of his performance on the record. Roni Ben-Hur has a pianist’s touch, which is remarkable for someone playing an instrument that must be plucked or strummed. His advanced technique developed, no doubt, from the deep study and appreciation of the majors from Charlie Christian to Jim Hall. His lines are long and take flight like frighten gazelles that leap and bound with utter grace even as they sense that death is near. This is the sense which Ben-Hur plays each note; as if it will be infused with his last breath.
There is not a bad performance on the album and for album of such considerable length, it is absolutely enthralling. Such is the constantly evolving nature of the music, driven by the musician’s ability to improvise, that the element of surprise lurks at every turn. Debriano’s monumental solo on “Isabella” as well as Roni Ben-Hur’s caressing of the lovingly created portrait by Duduka Da Fonseca. This a remarkable album form all these points of view as well as for the fact that it is a joy to participate in as a listener.
Tracks: Green Chimneys; Milonga For Mami; Our Thing; Fotografia; Afroscopic; Anna’s Dance; Isabella; Earl’s Key; Suave; Ela é Carioca; Let’s Face The Music And Dance.
Personnel: Roni Ben-Hur: guitar; Santi Debriano: bass; Duduka Da Fonseca: drums and percussion.
Roni Ben-Hur – Official Website: www.ronibenhur.com
Label: Motema Music
Release date: August 2012
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama