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The Sounding Board by R J Lannan
RJ Lannan is the reviewer for The Sounding Board.
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Nights of Fire!
By Benise
Label: Monet's Brush Music-Vanguard Records
Nights of Fire! tracks
1. Prelude/Fuego
2. Desperado  
3. Monserrat
4. Santa Barbara
5. Salsa Salsa
6. Mi Amor
7. Tribal
8. Galletto's Jam
9. Long Kiss Goodbye
10. Fandango  
11. Carnaval  
12. Blue Havana
13. Senorita
14. 60 Tacos
15. Shambala  
Noche de Gitano
To say Benise (Roni Benise) plays guitar is like saying Lance Armstrong rides a bike. Benise is a guitarist extraordinaire and moreover, he is a showman second to none. His new album Nights of Fire and the accompanying DVD are a celebration of World music at its best. Benise displays combustible Spanish guitar fretwork as he performs Latin inspired songs from every part of the globe.
Nights of Fire is not made up of simple songs. These are Flamenco, Brazilian, and Cuban live production numbers with a host of characters played by various instruments. Guitar, bass, percussion and Gypsy violin make up the majority of tunes, but it is Benise’s performances that light up the night like Cinco de Mayo fireworks.

Prelude/Fuego is the beginning of our journey. Like the temptation of a dark-eyed beauty it starts out quiet, soulful, and gentle. As the drums and voices rise, the score becomes more powerful, more energetic and the music crescendos and explodes into the night like a meteor shower on the black horizon. Benise’s dramatic guitar sings out like the voice of a tortured soul. One of the best tracks on the recording.

In the north east of Spain there is a mountain called Montserrat. Along one of its slopes there is a Benedictine monastery that shelters a particular statue. It is the place that pilgrims traveling to France and Europe stop at for succor and rest. There stands a statue dedicated to St. Mary, the Mother of All Graces. Benise’s tune called Montserrat is a study in history and a lesson in melody. This exquisite ballad, with its meandrous duet of guitar and violin is filled with pious beauty that speaks of the long traditions of Christianity.

Santa Barbara is a bright, friendly tune. Full of sunny skies and warm breezes, it is a jaunt up the coast to visit the mission and then on to the presidio as history and charm have their way with us. Look out on the bay and you can see the Channel Islands. Great rhythmic tune for travelers.

Another notable track is called Fandango. This is energy set to music. Many guitars and the violin sing out like old friends in simpatico. This is a very lively number that although very elaborate, is a song of private passion between one man and one woman. Explosive romance is in the air.

Along with the ten tracks on the album there are four previously unreleased tracks. One of them is called Shambala, Tibetan for “paradise on earth”. It has a hauntingly mysterious vocal track that captures the Middle Eastern influence of al-Andalus and the Muslim conquers of Spain around 750 A.D and is backed up by a touch of Gregorian chant. It is a wondrous tune to end the album and one of my favorites on the CD.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the remarkable DVD of the PBS Special, Nights of Fire. On it Benise chronicles an outstanding live performance akin to that of showmen Barry Manilow or Neil Diamond. Overall this is an agreeable album for lovers of the Spanish guitar. The music’s every shade, shadow, and hue is brought to vivid life by Benise’s masterful hands.
Rating: Very Good +   Very Good +
- reviewed by RJ Lannan on 4/7/2006
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