The Two Rivers Ensemble is a sextet of jazz and Middle Eastern musicians that has made innovative strides in in using the maqam modal system to transform the jazz idiom. Deeply rooted in musical forms of Iraq and nearby regions, the music still speaks the language of swing, improvisation and group interaction, and the resultant sound is distinct from other contemporary cross-cultural musical fusions. After 8 years of extensive performing and touring and the release of two critically- acclaimed albums on Pi Recordings, Inana (2011) and Two Rivers (2007), the Two Rivers Ensemble has developed an instinctive ease with ElSaffar’s highly complex music, enabling the band to play with a creativity that transcends pure technical challenge in a style that is rooted in tradition, while creating an entirely new aesthetic. Amir ElSaffar’s latest work with Two Rivers, a piece entitled “Crisis”, was a commissioned piece by Newport Jazz Festival that premiered at the festival in August 2013, which Downbeat Magazine called “certainly the first Middle Eastern-imbued jazz combo at Newport to win a standing ovation for its first song.” Crisis was released on Pi Recordings in July 2015. View the official Crisis press release here and watch the video EPK below.
“ElSaffar has found a beautiful and singular way of pairing the sibling spirits of jazz and the classical maqam system of the Arab world, with their shared spheres of improvisation, deep knowledge of tradition and urge to keep innovating.” – Anastasia Tsioulcas on the Two Rivers Ensemble, NPR Music
Listen to the Two Rivers Ensemble performance at Newport Jazz Festival 2013
on NPR Music’s JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater.
Two Rivers includes Nasheet Waits, one of the most dynamic drummers in jazz who is best known as a mainstay in Jason Moran’s Bandwagon; bassist Carlo DeRosa, whose CD Brain Dance achieved considerable acclaim; Tareq Abboushi on buzuq (long-necked lute) whose CD, Mumtastic, contains his own blend of jazz and Arabic forms; multi-instrumentalist and virtuoso Zafer Tawil, who is one of the most in-demand Arab musician in New York; and tenor saxophonist Ole Mathisen, a master of microtonal playing who contributes beautifully controlled and technically dazzling playing, serving as the perfect foil to ElSaffar on the front line.
“The band navigates ElSaffar’s still-fresh fusion of jazz and maqam with such masterful technical power and vivid lyrical imagination that you almost immediately forget to be engrossed by the novelty of the sound.” – Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader