Considering the numerous musical and cultural strands that inherently run
through the genre, Babel isn’t a bad name for a jazz title.
quite neat for Uri Gurvich, because that is the name of the 30-something New
York-resident Israeli jazz saxophonist’s impending sophomore release on the
In fact, the album title came from more immediate
“The people who play on the CD come from five different
countries, explains Gurvich when we sit down to coffee a few hours before his
gig at Avi Chai in Jerusalem recently.
“The others are from Cuba,
Argentina and Bulgaria, and the guest artist who plays oud and percussion is
from Morocco,” he says.
The said sidemen, in order of nationality, are
drummer Francisco Mela, pianist-keyboardist Leonardo Genovese, bass player Peter
Slavov and Brahim Fribgane.
Gurvich wrote all the tracks on the CD,
except for a Ladino song, called “The Golden Ladder,” which he arranged. The
band leader says the new album was created within comfortable professional
“I have been playing with most of the others for quite some
time, and the guest artist came in because I was looking to take a slightly more
world music angle,” Gurvich adds.
The material was tried and tested
before the band members holed up in the recording studio.
“I wrote the
music with these guys in mind, and we performed the numbers live before we
recorded the CD,” he explains, adding that the original scores evolved before
the final product was put together. “I wrote the music over the last two years,
and it changed over time.”
Gurvich hails from Kfar Saba, and he began his
musical education at high school when he was given an alto saxophone to learn
on. It remains his main instrument.
He quickly got into his
“I got turned on to jazz almost from the start,”
he recalls, “primarily through [veteran saxophonist, teacher and head of the
Rimon School of Jazz & Contemporary Music] Amikam Kimmelman. There were also
a bunch of us who sort of played jazz together. We didn’t really know what we
were doing, but it was fun.”
At the time, it was all about good old
mainstream modern jazz. “We listened to records by people like [saxophonists]
Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Sonny Stitt, and [trumpeter] Miles Davis. I
really wasn’t into anything avant garde, or fusion-oriented. That wasn’t my
thing at all.”
Gurvich continued to hone his playing skills, although not
exactly in the jazz sphere, during his army service.
“I served in the Air
Force orchestra for three years and then I went to Berklee [College of Music in
Boston]. Joe Lovano was one of my teachers there and we are still in touch. He
is one of my inspirations.” 60- year-old Lovano is, today, one of the jazz
world’s preeminent saxophonists.
The Tzadik record company, owned by
Jewish New Yorker avant garde multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer John
Zorn, takes a largely Jewish perspective on new music. Gurvich’s debut release,
The Storyteller, came out on Tzadik in 2009.
“I wasn’t into Jewish music
or Israeli music when I was at Berklee,” he notes. “While I was in Boston I was
into modern jazz only.” It was after his studies, when he relocated to the Big
Apple, that he began to delve into his own cultural roots.
getting into Jewish and Israeli music after I moved to New York,” he says.
“While I was at Berklee it was all about the studies, but when I moved to New
York I started wondering about where I was going musically.”
jazz club in Greenwich Village has been a magnet for many aspiring Israeli jazz
musicians over the years, but Gurvich says he was not drawn to it.
looking to find my own original voice, which I didn’t think I would do at
Smalls,” he explains. “I don’t know if I have found it yet. That’s always been
my aim and Smalls did not fit in with that ambition.”
It wasn’t long
before Gurvich realized that his “original voice” partly comes from this part of
“I began playing the material for The Storyteller before I met
Zorn,” he says, adding that it was something akin to absence making his heart
grow fond. “You know sometimes you have to distance yourself from something or
somewhere to get close to it. If I’d stayed in Israel, that might not have
Gurvich says he was not drawn to just the Jewish side of the
Middle Eastern musical domain. ”I started listening to Arabic music too. You
know, Coltrane did that many years ago. But, there’s nothing new about that.
Jazz musicians have always dug into folklore.”
Then again, folklore is a
very expansive cultural world. “We each have our own personal folklore,”
observes Gurvich. “My folklore, for example, is different from someone who was
born in New York.”
That realization was a formative stage in Gurvich’s
artistic growth. “I felt I had to play what came naturally to me, and that is
the stuff you can hear on The Storyteller and what you’ll hear on
The saxophonist says his cohorts on the new release all went
through the same learning process. “We all have a similar story of searching for
our roots, within the jazz. You’ll hear Cuban stuff and Argentinean things on
Babel, and Bulgarian and Arabic colors and rhythms. We have that common
denominator of looking to express ourselves through what we have learned and the
baggage we bring with us from our individual backgrounds and upbringing. That, I
think, is the way to find you own voice.”
Gurvich will start to showcase
the new CD at concerts in the United States and Europe over the coming months,
with a prestigious slot at the fabled Village Vanguard jazz venue in New York
arranged in May.
He’s also got a stellar guest artist roster lien
“That’s a great gig to have, and I’ll have all sorts of people like
[trumpeter] Dave Douglas, and Zorn playing there. I’m happy about
Hopefully, Gurvich will be bringing his Babel band to this part of
the world in the summer too.
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