Nilson Matta & Roni Ben-Hur – Mojave

Blending the music of Brazil with the traditional vibe of jazz is the mission of guitarist Roni Ben-Hur and bassist Nilson Matta on Mojave. This is their first collaboration and it’s a smooth, clean mix of lovely songs that offer the best of both worlds.

Also featured on the record are drummer Victor Lewis and Brazilian percussionist Cafe.

Working through pieces from masters like Antonio Carlos Jobim, Baden Powell, Burt Bacharach, and Pixinguinha is far from a straightforward proposition for any set of musicians, but Mojave lets the players stretch out and enjoy the effort. Everything is kissed with a touch of sleek samba and a bit of funk, giving the tunes a very cosmopolitan quality.

Ben-Hur, an Israeli guitarist, may not be one’s first choice for pulling through the music of Brazil. But this player has stroke and his effortless fretwork is something to behold. With six albums as a leader and a career as an educator, Ben-Hur’s chops are unquestionable.

Matta, born in São Paulo, immersed himself in the sounds of Brazil from an early age. Along the way, he was influenced by masters of bass like Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers. As dedicated as he was to the sounds of his homeland, Matta was just as fascinated by the bebop vibes of more mainline jazz.

Mojave doesn’t belong to any one performer, though. It is a collective effort, one that shines with the undeniable skill of Matta and the addictive energy of Ben-Hur. The two players match each other beautifully, dancing with the rhythm and setting the pace at the same time.

The title track comes with a gentle sway and a standard jazz feel. Lewis’ drums trot through, offering a firm foundation that is accented elegantly by Cafe. Ben-Hur’s playing is smooth and sensual, gliding as it does through the Jobim-penned number.

The pre-Bossa Nova master Pixinguinha is represented in three pieces, including the beautiful “Carinhoso.” The ballad is a soft caress from a lover, glowing in the sunlight thanks to Matta’s patient playing. Percussion gives it tempo, but it’s the slow movements that really make this one something to remember.

The familiarity of “The Look of Love,” a staple in the jazz community, is wonderfully placed. It showcases a lean set of players pulling through a straight arrangement. It’s almost a cool-off from the spacious arrangements that populate most of Mojave, but it still packs that silky Brazilian mood.

With velvety grooves and oodles of gorgeous, almost sly rhythm, Mojave is a brilliant showcase for Ben-Hur and Matta. It’s very nearly a “worlds-colliding” sort of record, but the familiarity and respect these two players illustrate takes things well beyond any genre archetypes and produces a recording that is half-Brazilian, half-bebop, all fun.

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