There's surely a lot to be said for Ben-Hur as both a performer and composer. His chops easily moved from ballad to bop to samba to fusion, and for one not brought up in the American tradition, he can swing like crazy (e.g., Harold Alden's Sleeping Bee") and corral that blues feeling (e.g., Strayhorn's Intimacy of the Blues"). But he is most effective in the global realm of folkloric influences ("Recado Bossa Nova," Carinhoso," Eshkolit"), including his own Eretz."
But the most satisfying element of the nearly two hours of music was the empathetic interplay among the quartetnone of whom appear on Ben-Hur's recent, highly touted release, Fortuna; only Dibriano has recorded with him to date. Cohan can comp with subtlety or dramatic fire, while his solos ranged from beautiful cascades (on Like a Lover") to break-neck gymnastics ("Recardo Bossa Nova") and lightning streaks ("Guess Who"); Dibriano has a huge dynamic and emotional range, a seriously classical style emerging on balladic arco solos ("Like a Lover") and a melodic undercurrent well serving a duet with Ben-Hur ("Carinhoso"); Steve Williams absorbed plenty backing Shirley Horn, showing a multitude of voices, particularly engaging in dialogue with Dibriano on Intimacy of the Blues," across all percussive tactics on Eretz" and rattling cages on Guess Who." Without piano, the remaining trio provided a stunning interlude on the gorgeous arrangement of the traditional Eshkolit," while paring down Carinhoso" to a bass/guitar duet suggests a future recording project. This quartet plays with the fire and spice of the best, from the opening high energy of Ben-Hur's Fortuna" to the ferocious swing of A Sleeping Bee" to the touches of fusion and Latin of his closing Guess Who." Hats off to the JCC for the foresight to bring such creative and joyous jazz to a community space.