Press: Two Rivers

Amir ElSaffar Two Rivers Cover“gorgeous, invigorating, and accessible” – Patrick Jarenwattananon, NPR Music

“harrowing to absorb; full of as much beauty as pain” – Matt Wells, BBC World Service

“fresh, deep, intensely performed music…an organic amalgam” – Chris Kelsey, Jazz Times

“a transcendent album that gets at what I think Coltrane was trying to achieve in his late music, spiritual release through music. ElSaffar has channeled his muse and recorded one of the best albums of the year.” – Lester A. French Jr., WMEB 91.9 FM

“Like the best jazz, this music celebrates the ability of great musicians to imagine unfamiliar territory, and navigate it in a way that makes for both intuitive understanding and compelling listening.” – Patrick Jarenwattananon, NPR Music

“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, NPR Music

“This was certainly the first Middle Eastern-imbued jazz combo at Newport to win a standing ovation for its first song.” – Downbeat Magazine

“hypnotic and arresting. The context is so unusual that it feels otherworldly when ElSaffar plays the santoor, or hammered dulcimer, over Carlo DeRosa’s mesmerizing bass and the elegant stickwork of the much-in-demand drummer Nasheet Waits…This is new turf, and it’s likely to be a lot for either culture to digest. Yet the feeling and eloquence that emanate from this sextet make the experiment worthwhile.” – Karl Stark, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“a staggering accomplishment that subtly erases the lines between his 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

“a downright fascinating album” – Mike Szajewski, Director, WNUR Jazz Show, Chicago, IL

“there’s an awful lot going on here, none of it betrayed by that whiff of exoticism carried by so many other jazz-initiated fusions of this sort, no matter how sincere. As with Vijay Iyer’s Indian rhythmic cycles or Anthony Brown’s Asianized Gershwin, the difference is all in the artist’s acute awareness of his own.” – Francis Davis, The Village Voice

“ambitious and deftly executed” – Siddhartha Mitter, Boston Globe Best of 2007 

“a beautiful and sophisticated mix” – WNYC Soundcheck

“ElSaffar combines his dual heritage into a vigorous hybrid… [and] weaves mesmerizing new tunes out of traditional Iraqi maqam.” – Shaun Brady, Philadelphia City Paper

“Two Rivers makes a strong case for improvised cross-cultural exchange.” – Nate Chinen – NY Times

“A gorgeous record balanced between two worlds, Two Rivers is a stirring example of the creative possibilities of international jazz in the 21st century.” – Troy Collins, All About Jazz

“deeply affecting, musically adventurous, and provocative…it seems the right time for a musical project that aims to cross boundaries and give insight into the historical and current experiences of the Iraqi People.” – Laurel Gross, All About Jazz

“Simply put, it sounds as though it was meant to be.” – Glenn Astarita, Jazz Review

“Two Rivers by Amir ElSaffar is in itself a force created by nature…this release travels over borders into the openness and takes separateness and breathes a sense of unity into its lungs.” – Green Arrow Radio

“The one thread that seems to run through this disc is a blues drenched one: it is a sound and feeling that is universal to all of us that have suffered in some way. It is both humbling and triumphant and it embodies this music quite well.” – Downtown Music Gallery

“Music is the great healer and hopefully [Two Rivers] in some small way can bring different cultures together in an understanding that will benefit all.” –

“[an] enchanting and captivating soundscape which digs deep, both in terms of tradition as well as instrumental nuance and skill” –

“ancient Iraqi scales (maqams) meet boppish modes and rhythms, a subtle nod to the way the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers run parallel through Iraq and then converge” – K. Leander Williams, TimeOut NY

“daring new music…” – Global Rhythm

“an organic, flowing, Middle Eastern-influenced style of ethno-jazz…Genre-blurring, innovative, and well-executed” – Daryl Licht, KFJC FM

“To hear these sounds, both old and new, mixing together so comfortably and so powerfully is a tremendous pleasure…Two Rivers goes a long way toward making the music of maqam approachable and comprehensible by putting it in context alongside more familiar jazz instrumentation and structures. The album works like a musical Rosetta stone; it provides not just the means to understand, but a way to explore a deeper, fuller history than before, and most importantly, showcases the impressive talents of the artists involved in bringing this music to life.” – Michael Patrick Brady, Pop Matters

“an album of music that spans borders, incorporates seemingly disparate elements that end up comfortable bedfellows, and comes out with an end product that doesn’t feel forced in bringing it all together. The feat of apparent effortlessness is a cherished quality in the music I enjoy, and this fits the bill.” – Dan Melnick,

“There was a moment in one piece, a soft slow piece, when all the others fell away and left Amir by himself. He played with a quiet, airy intensity that not only quieted the whole band, but paralyzed the entire room. After about 30 seconds by himself he simply stopped. There was a collective gasp in the room that stunned. Beautiful.” – Dave Douglas