Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir ElSaffar put his New York career on hold in his mid 20s to immerse himself in the music of his father’s ancestral past, the Iraqi Maqam. 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 santur (Iraqi hammered dulcimer) and to sing in Arabic. With this debut for his Two Rivers Ensemble, ElSaffar 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.
ElSaffar’s Two Rivers is a powerful emotional journey through Iraq’s glorious and tragic past and present, and it cries Amir’s personal struggle, his feelings as an Iraqi-American watching his father’s homeland in turmoil and destruction.
Amir ElSaffar, trumpet, santur, vocals; Nasheet Waits, drums; Carlos DeRosa, bass; Tareq Abboushi, buzuq; Zafer Tawil, oud, violin, qanun, Arab percussion; Rudresh Mahanthappa, saxophone.