Uri Gurvich – Kinship (2018)

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Uri Gurvich hails from New York City and has arrived on the music scene with something of a tsunami of success. DownBeat gave him a resounding validation when they said “few of the music’s practitioners embody its universality more completely than saxophonist Uri Gurvich.” He was a member of the Tel Aviv Jazz Orchestra and won the Israel Jazz Player of the Year before attending Berklee College of Music, where he studied under Joe Lovano. He is a composer and an outstanding musician.

The Storyteller, his debut album on Tzadik, received acclaim across the globe – as did his second album on the same label, BabEl, which featured his quartet of 10 years or so. The quartet features Leo Genovese (Esperanza Spalding and others) on piano, Francisco Mela (McCoy Tyner Trio, Gary Bartz, Kenny Barron) on drums and Peter Slavov (Joe Lavano, Quincy Jones and many more) on bass. Kinship, his third album, arrives on the French label Jazz Family. Uri Gurvich has played the Village Vanguard, New York City’s Town Hall, Tel Aviv Jazz Festival, Atlanta Jazz Festival and the Red Sea Jazz Festival, just to mention a few. Among his collaborators are Esperanza Spalding, Chris Potter, Dave Liebman, Ben Monder, Avishai Cohen, Django Bates and many more.

Kinship swings gently into life with “Song For Kate,” which develops into a gentle, swaying number with a light sashay set up by the quartet whilst Uri mixes and adds texture to themes over and above. It was written to celebrate Gurvich’s marriage, the union of two people, and features some delicate, complex finger work as he stretches and eeks out every note from the theme. It features a lovely piano solo from Leo Genovese. This is followed by “Dance of the Nanigos,” which opens with a bass setting the slightly darker tone with a slower tune before the sax works its way in to take the main theme. “Dance of the Nanigos” was written in celebration of Cuban culture: The Nanigos were streets dancers who were members of the clandestine Afro-Cuban Abakua society, whose secrets were revealed only during the 19th century. There is also an influence in the composition from Francisco Mela. The piano at times emphasizes the slightly darker tone, while at others it adds trickles and light fancy work – along with the sax, which accentuates a dancing style.

“El Chebut” opens with spoken words over piano, the voice belonging to Bernardo Palombo, an Argentinian folklore master. Bernardo also sings on the track and there is strong Latin American referencing throughout. The gentle theme allows space for the words to be clearly heard, and also rises during the silences where the voice stops to fill the space with persuasive and calming tones. The voice adds its own melodic language to the music. This was written to celebrate Uri Gurvich’s Argentinian grandmothers, who moved to Israel, and has essences of both cultures. Chubut is a province in Argentina, where many prisons were built during the 1970s and 1980s. The poetic words of “vamos andano” at the start mean “we keep going,” and were words found on a notebook smuggled out by a visitor. A lovely number.

“Twelve Tribes” is announced by drums before the theme develops into a complex and engaging melody, interspersed at one point by some nifty drum riffs from Francisco Mela. This track feels Balkan with its changes and rhythms. The theme was inspired by Gurich’s bass player Peter Slavov, who is Bulgarian but lives in New York. Unsurprisingly, the tune is named after the 12 tribes of Israel, and there is the coming together of different themes, rhythms and emphasis in a way which unites, yet shows clear divides at the same time. Interesting listening.

“Im Tirtzi (If You Want),” a love song by the Israeli folk composer Sasha Argov, has been recorded by several musicians. This version is gentle and features the bass of Peter Slavov and a solo from the piano of Leo Genovese, as well as some stellar sax playing by Uri and some interesting choral work from the entire band. “Go Down Moses” is another gentle number, celebrating the traditions both of the African-American spiritual and also Passover: Both tell tales of the struggle against oppression and slavery, but at the same time celebrate traditions. There is an almost constant walking rhythm, a nod to the marching of the people and the melody works its way up, round and through the changes. Uri Gurvich’s sax playing is outstanding on this track, and there is a gentle insertion of choral voices at the end, which is clever as singing is such a large part of both of the cultures that this number embraces.

The title track has a rolling, wave-like feel, and weaves in and out of minor keys, focusing on the emotive side of the themes used. “Kinship” conjures up emotions both of joy and melancholy as it softens, slows and then become faster and more emphatic in turns. Gentle, yet with an underlying warmth and passion, which the listener can feel as the theme is seeded, nurtured, grown and worked. There are clever parts where the sax soars off, as if emphasizing the diversity and separation of life, yet at the same time the unity of the musicians contradicts with the message that ultimately we are one, together and this is how we play.

“Blue Nomad” is a track of Latin grooves and influence with a strong overlay of the Eastern modal structure, creating a gorgeous coalescence of the two. It also has a blues feel, which only adds to the atmospheric and heady mix. The track effectively combines three musical modes in a clever and intuitive manner. It features a lovely, bluesy piano solo and a very interesting drum line which varies from gentle staccato taps to intense and rapid rhythms. So much variation in one number.

“Hermetos” was influenced by the music of Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal, who is beloved by Brazilians and known for his improvisation and his orchestral arrangements. This tune reflects the various styles he uses, including deep piano lines, countered by high, gentle sax melodies. Once you understand it is designed to reflect the rich heritage of Brazilian landscape and life, “Hermetos” conjures up images of mountains, fast running rivers and rich veldts. There is a drum solo which is fast, furious and wonderful about a minute from the finish, before Uri Gurvich’s sax takes the theme once again and slows it right down, falling towards an ending which fades from bass to a little added tinkle from the piano.

“Ha’im Ha’im” is a classic Israel song by Sasha Argov, and is introduced by a wonderful bass solo on track 10, followed by a pause before the number really begins as track 11. What Uri has done here though is add the influence of John Coltrane’s “Spiritual,” and it works to an extent. Some of the ‘Trane lines are somewhat prolapsed – but, forget that: This track is listenable, engaging and has input from every musician, and there is the same spiritual-blues and folk references which Coltrane so often used in his music.

What pervades Kinship is the multi-cultural, multi-heritage sphere from which the compositions and arrangements are drawn: Eastern and Latin beats, blues and spiritual and folk, it is all here in essence and yet drawn closer under Uri Gurvich’s masterful hand. His sax garners and presses everything together to create an almost seamless and entirely listenable album. There is also a touch of the rougher, upbeat music so prevalent of New York City jazz, something which must have influenced these musicians, as well.

The celebration of differences, of many individual constituencies, is reflected here, yet we also get a sense of the great warmth of harmony in the togetherness with which the quartet play. Uri Gurvich’s Kinship features music that has been hewn out of many influences, brought together in an imaginative form.

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