Uri Gurvich: Babel

Like The Storyteller, Uri Gurvich’s justly praised debut on Tzadik three years ago, BabEl mates sinuous Middle Eastern and sprightly Afro-Cuban folk forms via original compositions that are equally influenced by his native Israel and the Berklee College of Music. The core quartet is the same, with the alto saxophonist-leader again joined by Cuban drummer Francisco Mela, Bulgarian bassist Peter Slavov and Argentinean pianist Leo Genovese. But the lone change, swapping out saxophonist Chris Speed for Moroccan Brahim Fribgane as the special guest artist, is a masterstroke. Fribgane’s oud playing is first plucky than sinuous on the opener, “Pyramids,” and helps fuel the intensity of “Scalerica de Oro,” a traditional Ladino wedding song and the lone non-Gurvich composition. Then the exchanges between Mela’s drums and Fribgane’s percussion deliver the highlight and the sonic anchor for “Camelao.” In short, Gurvich unearthed the ideal foil to add more texture to his already cosmopolitan palette, creating a cultural olio that is organic, exotic and unpretentiously heartfelt.