Israeli saxophonist Alon Farber's Hagiga (in Yiddish, "celebration") is exactly that—a warm tribute to contemporary jazz from the Middle East to South America and beyond, ably performed on the group's fourth album, Reflecting on Freedom, by half a dozen well-schooled Israeli musicians and—on several of the album's nine tracks—special guest percussionist Rony Iwyrn and vocalist Sarai Zak-Levi. Hagiga has been in the forefront of Israel's burgeoning jazz scene for more than two decades, thanks for the most part to bright and colorful compositions by Farber and other members of the sextet, Farber's splendid charts and dynamic blowing by all hands.
Farber's earnest "Reflecting on Freedom," inspired by saxophonist Eddie Harris's "Freedom Jazz Dance," follows the handsome opening number, trombonist Oded Meir's free-spirited "Israeli Song." Meir also wrote another of the album's highlights, the gently swaying "Theme for Michal," which is reminiscent of Burt Bacharach's superlative score for the classic western film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Speaking of influences, the spirit of Antonio Carlos Jobim is very much alive on Matt Caspi's "You'll See the Way," the last of a trio of vocals by Zak-Levi (the others are "Israeli Song" and "Theme for Michal"). Percussionist Iwryn lends substance on that number, as he does on the album's first three selections and the buoyant Middle Eastern folk song, "Hammouda."
Besides arranging "Hammouda," Farber composed "Ima" ("mother," dedicated to Farber's mother who passed away in 2019), the ardently swinging "Fresh Start," introspective "More Monkeys, Please" and funk-based finale, "Farbalak." Farber solos perceptively on alto and soprano sax, as do Yehonatan Cohen on tenor and flute, trombonist Meir and pianist Eden Giat. Bassist Assaf Hakimi and drummer Roy Oliel round out Hagiga's capable rhythm section. A scrapbook of stylish universal music with a delightful Israeli accent.