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The Storyteller

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Album Review

Jazz listeners outside of Israel, Boston, or New York City may not — yet — be familiar with the work of alto saxophonist and composer Uri Gurvich. He emigrated to the United States from Israel in 2003, landing in Boston to study with Joe Lovano and Herb Pomeroy at the Berklee College of Music before relocating to New York City. The Storyteller, on John Zorn's Tzadik label, is his debut album as a leader. It's a very natural place for him because it has become a true hotbed for developing as well as established talent and those working with a myriad of influences, from Jewish music to postmodern jazz and beyond. Gurvich is a new name on the scene perhaps, but an artist who arrives fully developed as a bandleader, soloist, and composer. The Storyteller showcases Gurvich's deep love of progressive jazz as it weds itself to his knowledge of and deep respect for the folk music traditions of Israel, Yemen, North Africa, and Eastern Europe. Backed by pianist Leo Genovese (who plays Fender Rhodes on a pair of tracks) bassist Peter Slavov, and drummer Francisco Mela (with tenorist Chris Cheek guesting on a pair of cuts), Gurvich has crafted a thoroughly engaging, melodically and modally sophisticated, and harmonically compelling set. Check "Ha'bonim," which bears more than a little resemblance to the Robert Sherman classic "Chim Chim Cheree," via both John Coltrane's unforgettable rendition of the tune (this period in the legendary saxophonist's career proves inspirational throughout) and even Dave Brubeck's. That said, Gurvich digs deeper into its origins as a Hebrew folk melody developed by Sherman and exposes both the song's true roots and an elaborate historical use of it as a jazz anthem, and adds something utterly new in its harmonic reach and rhythmic invention. The following cut, "Ani Ma'amin," with Cheek, has Genovese on the Rhodes. The sparse four-note opening motif played by both horns is accented by a knotty rhythmic attack by Mela and Genovese's spacy, sometimes near funky Rhodes that owes much to Chick Corea's early musings on the instrument. The various modes shapeshift between folk melodies and tough modal jazz, blowing with beautifully articulated yet spare solos by the horn players. The album's longest track, "Joseph the Storyteller," offers a sparwling but focused narrative. It begins with a shimmering, minor-key motif that recalls North Africa, with a stellar, joyous bassline by Slavov, who brings in Genovese to follow the skeletal, mournful, modal opening. The staggered horn melodies offer an aural view out of the context of present time, and recall a distant past that is perhaps imagined, though they also point toward an undefined future; where jazz, which has done more to bridge the world's folk music traditions than virtually any other genre, becomes symbiotic with them without losing a shred of its own identity. The Storyteller is an auspicious debut by a major new voice in jazz. Anyone interested in the form as either a student of its history or as an enthusiast for its development in the 21st century would do well to pay close attention to both the record and its creator. Gurvich may not be well-known yet, but based on what's here, that's about to change.


Born: Israel

Genre: World

Years Active: '00s

Born and raised in Israel, alto saxophonist and jazz composer Uri Gurvich first began playing the saxophone at the age of 10. He studied at the Rimon School in Israel and was a member of the Tel Aviv Jazz Orchestra before relocating to the U.S. and Boston in 2003 to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, studying there with Joe Lovano and Herb Pomeroy. After graduating from Berklee with honors, Gurvich moved to Brooklyn, and began playing regularly with various ensembles in the New York City...
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The Storyteller, Uri Gurvich
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