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Two Rivers

by Amir ElSaffar

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“A staggering accomplishment that subtly erases the lines between [ElSaffar's] two chosen disciplines: while plenty of horn players have tapped into Middle Eastern modalities since John Coltrane became fascinated with Eastern sounds in the late 60s, it’s rare to hear it done with such conviction and authority.” -- Peter Margasak, The Chicago Reader

Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir ElSaffar put his New York career on hold six years ago to immerse himself in the music of his father’s ancestral past, the Iraqi Maqam. Already an accomplished jazz and classical trumpeter, having performed with esteemed artists such as Cecil Taylor, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Vijay Iyer, and Daniel Barenboim, and having won two international jazz competitions, ElSaffar traveled to Iraq, throughout the Middle East and to Europe, where he pursued masters who could impart to him this centuries-old oral tradition. He quickly became versed in Maqam, and learned to play the santoor (Iraqi hammered dulcimer) and to sing, and he now leads the only ensemble in the US performing Iraqi Maqam, Safaafir. He has also created new techniques for the trumpet that enable microtones and ornaments that are characteristic to Arabic music but are not typically heard on a trumpet.

Now, ElSaffar has turned his attention back to Jazz, and is approaching it with an Iraqi/Arabic bent. His Two Rivers Suite, which has been described by BBC World as “harrowing to absorb; full of as much beauty as pain,” is an emotionally charged work that invokes ancient Iraqi musical traditions and frames them in a modern Jazz setting. The compositions are based on Iraqi Maqam melodies, each of which is believed to have a unique spiritual essence and to contain an aspect of Iraq’s history and society. These rich melodies, which often contain non-western tunings, are set to heavy grooves, free jazz-like ensemble playing, and multi-layered sound textures.


released October 15, 2007

Amir ElSaffar – trumpet, santoor, vocals
Rudresh Mahanthappa – alto saxophone
Nasheet Waits – drums
Carlo DeRosa – bass
Tareq Abboushi – buzuq, percussion
Zaafer Tawil – oud, violin, dumbek



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Amir ElSaffar New York, New York

Iraqi-American trumpeter, santurist, vocalist, and composer, ElSaffar uses Middle Eastern and American jazz to create new techniques to ornament that are idiomatic to Arabic music. He performs classical Iraqi maqam music, and is active in the US, Europe and the Middle East as a vocalist and santur player. His compositions use microtones from maqam music to uniquely approach harmony and melody. ... more


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