There was a point during Amir ElSaffar's study of Arabic music where he almost didn't come back to jazz. He had gone to Iraq to study maqam, the system of melodic modes in traditional Arabic music, in order to bring some of the concepts into jazz. However, the experience proved to be a deepening one for ElSaffar. I was supposed to spend three weeks in Iraq, but once I had gotten a taste I realized that I wasn't really getting into the tradition at all. I knew some of the notes of the melody but not a ...read more
Born in Chicago to an American mother and Iraqi father, trumpeter Amir ElSaffar put his promising jazz career on hold in 2002 to study traditional Iraqi maqam abroad. His 2007 debut, Two Rivers (Pi Recordings), bore the fruit of his international studies, successfully fusing venerable aspects of the Iraqi classical vocal tradition with advanced improvisation techniques culled from American jazz. Pushing the cross-cultural envelope even further, Radif Suite (Pi Recordings), his 2010 collaboration with Iranian-American tenor saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh, combined Iraqi maqam and traditional Persian dastagah with avant-garde jazz, expanding the innovative possibilities of creative improvised music on an international ...read more
Growing up in an Iraqi-American household in Chicago, I was exposed to many musical influences from an early age: first Louis Armstrong, then Lutheran Hymns, then the Beatles, then Hendrix, then Miles. Arabic music, though constantly playing in the background during family gatherings, did not capture my attention until I was in my mid-teens and my sister Dena started a Middle Eastern music ensemble, called Salaam. I was intrigued by their music, but knowing that it used 'quarter tones,' it seemed impossible for me to approach Arabic music on the trumpet, until I discovered recordings of Egyptian trumpeter Samy El-Bably ...read more
This is an illuminating meeting between musicians who share similar cultural background and creative directions. Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar is an Iraqi-American whose work has fused elements of jazz and the maqam music of Iraq. His CD-length suite from 2007, Two Rivers, was a triumph of synthesis and vision. Tenor saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh is an older Iranian-American who has worked with jazz forms and Persian dastgah to develop his own tonal system that he dubs chromodal," suggesting perhaps the harmolodics" of Ornette Coleman, with whom Modirzadeh has played. Working from traditions that include modal improvisation and untempered, microtonal ...read more
This exploration of Iraqi, American and Arab sensibilities, rooted in the lands and cultures bordering the Tigris and Euphrates rivers--the two flowing sources of the CD's title--is deeply affecting, musically adventurous and provocative. American-born ElSaffar, a talented New York-based trumpeter/composer, ventured to Iraq six years ago to study the music of his father's country of heritage. He returned to the US with a working knowledge of its centuries-old musical Maqam tradition, rich in emotional and storytelling content as well as unusual technical structures. With the war in Iraq and tensions between American and Arab cultures, it seems ...read more
The blues are universal. Nowhere is this more implicit than Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir ElSaffar's Pi Recordings debut Two Rivers. Drawing inspiration from the complex and often bloody history surrounding the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, ElSaffar's multi-layered writing is equally rooted in traditional Arabic classicism and Western concepts of jazz improvisation.
A child of the Chicago suburbs, ElSaffar's interest in traditional Iraqi music is fairly recent. A former sideman to pianists Cecil Taylor and Vijay Iyer, ElSaffar made multiple trips to Iraq in 2002 to study the music of his ancestral homeland. Smitten by the Iraqi classical vocal tradition ...read more