New review of Rivers of Sound’s international premiere

at NYU Abu Dhabi, featured in The National:

ElSaffar presented the international premiere of his ambitious Rivers of Sound Large Ensemble, a genre-blending 17-piece group combining both jazz and Arab instruments…it’s an almighty river, full of twists and turns, peaks and troughs — and gushing waterfalls of sound.

Blending scales from the Iraqi maqam tradition with jazz ornamentation, melodies and rhythms intersect, criss-crossing musical lines dancing like brushstrokes across a broad canvas. Often strings and ouds pluck out a bedrock of repetitive figures, while a row of brass soar overhead, and an engine room of an extended rhythm section drives at the back…ElSaffar strolls the stage directing his musicians, signalling solos and changes, playing the role of both composer, conductor and star.

Refrains build and fall, textured timbres churn, trancelike waves swell and crest. The rivers motif is fitting — there’s something liquid about these breaking waves of sound, a liquidity to these cascading drops of simple repeating melodic fragments.” – The National

Amir ElSaffar and Two Rivers “CRISIS” EPK

ElSaffar’s ‘Global Fusion’ Heats Up Winter Jazzfest

Michael J. West, Downbeat Magazine, April, 2016

The third set of the night proved to be one of the most beautiful of the entire festival. Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar was born in the States and learned jazz here, but he studied maqam— the traditional Arabic music system—in Baghdad. His fusion of the two traditions in his Two Rivers sextet project resulted in numerous remarkable moments. It’s not every day that one hears a jazz bouzouki solo, like the lovely one Tareq Abboushi fired off in “The Great Dictator.” That tune reflected a strong Middle Eastern influence, yet also tinkered with an Ornette Coleman-like aesthetic in its ensemble passages. Saxophonist Ole Mathisen, too, adopted Coleman’s energy in the exhilarating solo that followed Abboushi’s. Whether by accident or design, ElSaffar’s music suggested other global musical connections. His languid trumpet tones on “Love Poem” evoked the sonorities and tremolos of flamenco music, mindful perhaps of the Moorish influence in Spanish music. (These crossed paths with Mathisen’s sax in a counterpoint line that lay against a bass/drum/bouzouki groove.) When he switched to the santur (an Iranian hammered dulcimer) on the following tune, it carried with it echoes of similar instruments used in Eastern Europe. The sound was exotic yet familiar, lyrical and longing. Contributions by bassist François Moutin and drummer Nasheet Waits—two masters on their respective instruments—were understated but essential. While he mines the musical fusion that remains at the heart of all jazz, ElSaffar is also crafting something thoroughly original and wonderful. He’s one of the most exciting voices on the scene today, and it’s no slight to the other acts to say that the trumpeter had quite simply stolen the show.” – Downbeat Magazine


Rivers Of Sound Spring 2016 Tour

Amir ElSaffar and his 17-piece improvising orchestra Rivers Of Sound have returned from their April Tour with performances in Philadelphia (Kimmel Center), Cleveland (Cleveland Museum of Art), and Abu Dhabi (NYU Abu Dhabi).

Rivers of Sound presents 17 musicians from a broad spectrum of traditions, from Iraqi maqam to American jazz. Using resonance as its governing principle, the music incorporates elements of maqam modal music of the Middle East with jazz and other contemporary musical practices to create a unique microtonal musical environment that moves beyond the notions of style and tradition into a realm of uninhibited musical communication. As pitches and rhythms become fluid, so do cultural boundaries: elements that traditionally divide musicians and genre-specific modes are re-contextualized in a fresh transcultural soundscape.

The debut double album by Rivers of Sound will be released Fall 2016. Check out a full list of tour dates here.

Amir ElSaffar: Crisis

Karl Ackermann, All About Jazz, July, 2015

“★★★★★…what ElSaffar is doing on Crisis is unique in music…from a political and historical vantage point, the task of narrating complex global events through instrumental music is more than challenging. ElSaffar has not only commendably told this personal and globally important story but has produced a masterpiece of a recording in doing so.” – Karl Ackermann, All About Jazz .