Jazz trumpeter, composer, Iraqi Maqam singer and santoor (the Iraqi hammered dulcimer) player, Amir ElSaffar is held by no bounds in terms of traditional jazz. ElSaffar bends these bounds, leading the only ensemble in the United States to perform the Iraqi maqam as it was traditionally meant to be played. According to his biography, “In 2008, Amir received a commission from the Made in Chicago Festival to assemble a 17-piece ensemble and write for it arrangements for the Two Rivers Suite. This ensemble performed at Millennium Park in Chicago, drawing an audience of over 5,000 people, and again the following year at Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors Festival. Included in this ensemble were piano, guitar and vibraphone, all re-tuned to accommodate the microtones found in Arabic music.
“ElSaffar now leads a collaborative quartet with tenor saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh. Joining them are Mark Dresser on bass and Alex Cline on drums. This project moves beyond the realm of cross-cultural fusions into a musical language that encompasses cultures across geography and time into microtonal and non-metric realms. Their March 2010 release, Radif Suite (Pi Recordings), has already received considerable acclaim, appearing on the New York Times Critic’s Playlist, and receiving a prestigious CHOC from Jazzman Magazine in France.”
The music of ElSaffar and Modirzadeh’s Radif Suite is a tangible experience in experimental trumpet and saxophone, outlined by confident bass from Dresser and percussion from Cline with ElSaffar’s traditional Iraqui influences woven in seamlessly. Modirzadeh mentions in the album’s liner notes that in regards to Radif Suite, “When Amir called, I knew the time had come for a decades-old concept to course with new blood…when we played, I found in Amir that rate combination of discerning mind and truthful heart, compelled to expand an already exceptional musicianship with great artistic courage.”
Experience the strength and diversity of one of modern jazz’s greatest artists this Saturday, May 8th at Turner Hall Ballroom as Present Music presents Amir ElSaffar and his group Safaafir, performing the ancient Iraqi lyrical music known as maqam (featuring vocal improvisation combined with the santoor, the spiked fiddle, called the djoze, and the tabla). The Present Music Ensemble will perform Istathenople by Turkish-American composer Kamran Ince and Six Yiddish Songs and Dances by Israeli composer Betty Olivero. ElSaffar will also perform improv with the Present Music Ensemble. Turner Hall Ballroom is located at 1032 N. 4th Street, and the performance begins at 7:30 p.m. All-ages. More information at PRESENTMUSIC.org.
Amir ElSaffar/Hafez Modirzadeh, “Facet Two”
Amir ElSaffar/Hafez Modirzadeh, “Awj/Ancestral Memory”